Um’s like totally out of control

Good habits last a life time.  We know that this holds true for eating habits and studying habits to name just a few.  As parents and educators, we spend a lot of time trying to instill these habits in children.  But what about speaking habits?  I find this to be the ugly stepchild of bad habits—the subject is rarely addressed and when it is, it’s often not taken seriously in our increasingly less formal culture.  While I am a fan of casual conversation in certain circumstances, the filler words including “like”, “um” and “ya’  know” as part of their everyday conversations have become rampant and, even more so, distracting.

I first started noticing the phenomenon while reviewing clips of some of my PR clients over the years during the media training we did in advance of on-air interviews.  I’d cringe and when I brought it to the attention of the client, they would too.  Did this well-known author really say “like” 40 times during the interview?  And I’d see the same phenomenon while teaching at NYU—my conversations with students and their presentations were plagued with these words to the point where I couldn’t help but count.

I began thinking — if the adage does hold true with other habits, maybe starting good speaking habits at an early age would be beneficial.  At socialsklz:-) we never criticize when a child uses these words, but rather we try to make children and young adults aware that they are unconsciously using them incessantly.  We hand out “frownie” cards every time someone in the class (be it a child or adult alike) uses one of the words.  Not only are they aghast at the frequency, but I’ve seen a dramatic improvement in the number of times a child uses these words after they are simply made aware of the frequency.  Even more so, students ask to take Frownie cards for at-home use.

The exercise isn’t intended to cure a culture-wide problem, but awareness is the first step in breaking a bad habit that will ultimately improve conversation, interview and social skills, which is the very essence of the workshops we offer at socialsklz:-). Our class room is a “like” “um” and “ya know” free-zone!

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