nervous speaker

Expert Guide: How to Avoid “Um” and “Er” and “YKnow” when public speaking

There are around 230,000 words in the Oxford English Dictionary. ‘Um’ and ‘Er’ and ‘Y’know’ are not listed. Over-use of these so called ‘spurious spacers’ are at best annoying to the audience and at worst can damage your credibility and dilute your message when public speaking.


The liberal use of “y’know” can signal pleading of an uncertain and vulnerable nature. However, the judicious and deliberate use of “y’know” can (whether hopefully or desperately) be taken as “Please see it my way – because we share the same world-view”.

Overcoming the use of such repetitive phrases

One of the best ways to improve and reduce one’s use of these words and phrases is to take a good look at yourself on video or audio. Few things are as humbling as hearing your own voice and noting your own (bad) habits!

If you’re brave, you can ask a colleague to count your spurious spacers during your next interview or presentation – some find the spoken judgment of a colleague to be an effective stimulus for correction.

Many people find that if they focus on reducing the use of a single word or phrase (perhaps substituting a pause which can be very powerful since it demands that the audience pay attention for and are expectant of the next word) they can make excellent progress by themselves.

Others need help from a third party. Electric Airwaves’ media and presentation training involves video-recording client’s presentations and coaching them on their content and delivery, with a particular focus on verbal and physical mannerisms.

If you want to speak to one of our journalists in order to find out more about the media or want to enquire about booking a training session, please call us on +44 (0)20 7323 2770 or email

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