And I, uhm, really mean that!
Before becoming a public speaking coach and speechwriter, I was a jazz singer.
And as a jazz singer, I spent a lot of time—arguably, too much time—developing a smooth-as-silk vocal style.
Some singers growl (think Janis Joplin).
Others beguile (Dolly Parton) or proclaim (Beyoncé).
I wanted to float people away on a magic carpet of rich, smooth sound.
So I practiced and worked and worked and practiced, and before I knew it, I had developed a vocal style that was excellent for sophisticated songs, and much less effective for songs about anger or pain.
Maybe Smooth Isn’t the Goal Here
Here’s how Seth Godin—teacher, philosopher, and marketing guru—made a similar point in a recent blog post:
Sanding off all the edges
It’s easier than ever. Solvents, power tools, market research, AI, committee meetings, online reviews and ennui are all aligned in one direction. To fit all the way in.
Of course, once you sand off all the edges, it’s hard to get traction. Hard to find the texture or anything worth talking about.
Smooth might not be the goal.
To rephrase Seth’s most important point:
If you lose the rough edges, it’s hard to get traction.
Hard for people to grab onto what you’re saying,
Hard for them to hear all the subtleties, and
- Hard for them to remember your main point.
Which is what I discovered when I eventually quit singing and joined the world of public speaking.
Too-Smooth Speaking Just Doesn’t Sound Real
Public speaking turns out to be much easier than jazz singing (take my word for this), and so I came into it already sounding smooth, comfortable, and controlled.
(I’m not saying I felt that way, just that I sounded it. :-))
Which was fun, but also a little scary because it was kind of…too much![Pro tip: Read the previous sentence out loud, with and without the words “kind of.” See how they create a launching pad for the phrase “too much”?]
- Too many words were going by too fast,
- Too much smoothness was blunting some difficult points, and
- It was too hard to growl or beguile or proclaim!
So I did what any good speechwriter would do: I started writing filler words into my speaking notes.
Yes, I really did that! 🙂
And when I gave a speech, when I stumbled over those filler words, they gave me (and presumably my listeners) a little break from solid content, and a welcome reminder that all of us sometimes hesitate, and even stumble.
When Filler Words Break Bad
Of course, when filler words start eating up so much space that it’s hard to focus on what you’re actually saying, it’s time for (most of) them to go.
If that’s your issue, here are some tips for leaving filler words in the dust.
But if you’re still beating yourself up over the occasional uhm, ah, or y’know, please stop doing that!
Because maybe smooth isn’t the goal here.