May 28, 2010

So... here's my tip of the day

A lot of people are bothered by the filler words "um" and "uh," but I'm noticing a far more distracting trend, which is the use of the word "so" to start a sentence.

I typically tell my clients that, unless their fillers are distracting and egregious, not to worry too much about them. After all, filler words are as much a part of communication as other words, according to Michael Erard in the book, "Um... Slips, Stumbles and Verbal Blunders, and What They Mean."

And the word "so" is not necessarily "bad" word. One of its main uses is as a conjunction, and it's meant to join two parts of a sentence together: for example, "I don't want to go, so I won't." (More examples of the conjunction "so" are here.) There are many proper uses of the word "so."

However, I'm noticing a lot of people using the word as a sort of conjunction, but as a transition between sentences. I notice a lot of speakers not only starting sentences with "so," but actually starting their entire presentations that way.

So... Here's my quick tip for today. You know how you've been practicing pausing instead of saying "um" in the middle of sentences? You can also practice pausing and silence at the beginning of sentences!

When you stand up to begin your presentation, don't start until you're ready. Ground yourself, then start speaking, with the engaging opening you've prepared and without saying "so" in front of it.

When you find yourself at the end of a sentence during a presentation, let it be the end. If you intend to use a conjunction, like "This happened, so now that will happen," that's fine. But if you are at the end of the sentence, let it lie. Pause, then start your next sentence.

Like any filler, if you use "so" occasionally, it's not a big deal. But make sure you are videotaping yourself or getting feedback from colleagues so ("in order that" -- another correct use of "so") you can find out if you are using the word to a degree that it has become noticeable and distracting.

2 comments. Please add yours! :

TechEase said...

I am guilty of this, not just in public speaking, but in everyday conversations. Thanks for reminding me to stop. One thing my improv class reminded me of this week was the effect of the "power stance" in grounding you. Watching the same line delivered from a power stance vs shuffling feet is night and day. Our mindset can follow our body's cues if we take time to remember the tips you're giving. Thanks Lisa.

Lisa Braithwaite said...

Thanks for your comment, Evan. Regarding grounding & the power stance: my clients are SHOCKED, when they use these tools, to discover how effective they are in improving their presentations.

I'm seriously thinking about taking an improv class, by the way. I haven't done anything like that since college, and I'm really rusty.

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