Interviewing Tip: Eliminating Uh’s And Um’s

Recently we covered how to overcome nervous jitters in an interview. Obviously, one way that people display nervousness is by inserting filler words like uh’s and um’s throughout their responses. Yet, these annoying utterances aren’t always due to nervousness. Whatever the cause, it can derail an interview.  Here are several effective techniques that will help you eliminate them from your interview answers or, for that matter, from any public speaking event.

  • Last week we recommended rehearsing as a way to eliminate the jitters. That advice holds here as well, but with one additional caveat. Record yourself when practicing. Then immediately go back and listen to the recording. When you listen to it, not only will it jar you (I do that a lot more than I thought I did), but you’ll also notice the tendencies in your speech patterns that coincide with the fillers. Knowing those tendencies is the first step to overcoming them.
  • Use good eye contact. Research shows that when a person uses effective eye contact, they are less likely to use filler words. I’m sure there are some cool charts, brain scans, and spreadsheets full of data to justify that conclusion, but I just think it makes good common sense. When you focus your attention on the person to whom you are speaking, it is a more humanizing experience. You’ll see that individual as a real person instead of as an inquisitor. For example, if you know you are a person that has the tendency for uh’s & um’s, I’ll bet you don’t do it so much when you are having a conversation with a friend or a loved one. Don’t believe me? Check it out.

    The eye contact technique can also work in virtual meetings where the image of the interviewer is on your computer screen. But how about a telephonic interview when there’s nobody with which to make eye contact? I recommend putting a picture of the person interviewing you (perhaps from their LinkedIn profile) in front of you as you speak. Don’t have a picture? No problem – use a picture of anybody that you don’t know.
  • Develop a rhythm to your speech by practicing to ‘chunk’ your words into groupings. As you focus on the rhythm of your speech, the filler words may go away completely.
  • Make silence work for you. When someone is on the hot seat answering an interview question, they may feel that they need to keep talking, so they try to fill up every second with something. The problem is that sometimes your brain can’t keep up with your mouth, so to fill in the empty space while your brain is catching up, you insert the fillers. A way to counter that is with deliberate pauses; they can help you reduce those tendencies. Plus, a well-timed pause may make you come across as more poised and deliberate in your speech. I’ve often heard in the world of Jazz music, that it’s the silence between the notes that makes the music. You can think of speaking in the same way.
  • Lastly, don’t treat answering an interview question as if you are responding to a test question. Instead, think of it as an opportunity to tell an interesting story. This approach is simply a mindset change. If you had a recording of a time that you told an interesting story to a friend, you would probably discover that you didn’t use many filler words. Telling stories tends to put us more at ease. Our stories naturally tend to flow better because we are more relaxed and just laying it out there for the listener.

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