Crutch words are meaningless verbal tics that serve no other purpose than to fill dead air when speaking. Eliminate them completely to simply and effectively increase your credibility.
What are crutch words?
Crutch words are words you excrete when you’re looking for something to say, or simply turn up for no reason at all. “Ah”, “uhm” and “so” are a few of the most common ones. Some other typical crutch words are “you know”, “I mean” and “like”. You’ll find them butting in at the worst possible moments. What’s your name? “Uhm, my name is David”. Seriously? I know what my own name is. So why would I ever say “uhm” in that sentence? Eliminate crutch words and you will immediately sound a lot smarter.
How to eliminate crutch words
Eliminating crutch words requires self-awareness and discipline.
- First of all, get comfortable with silence. Silence is your friend. Use the “rest between the notes” to let your points sink in, and to let your audience’s anticipation build for what you are about to say next.
- Be aware of your breath. Inhale deeply every time you are about to say “ah”, or “uhm”. This automatically creates a silence (which is good), and allows you to collect your thoughts. Most importantly, if you’re inhaling, you can’t be saying a crutch word!
- Start paying attention to other people’s usage of crutch words. Most people are unaware of how often they do it. Even professional speakers, like radio DJs, say “uhm” and “ah” while they’re on the job. It’s simply disgraceful. Not Ryan Seacrest though. He’s amazing.
- Try to eliminate this habit from everyday conversation. If you can forcefully eliminate the use of crutch words from basic conversation, you’ll be a lot better at eliminating them during live presentations.
- If it’s too difficult to eliminate crutch words by yourself, get a friend to help. Ask him or her to let you know every time you slip up and say “uh”. Keep score on a piece of paper. See, it’s fun. It’s a new kind of game!
- Join a Toastmasters club. Toastmasters provides a safe and mutually supportive environment in which to practice public speaking and leadership skills. With weekly meetings and constructive feedback, you’ll be improving in no time.
Crutch words pollute communication and discredit those who use them. No matter how big your audience is, whether it’s a small group, a large conference, or even a single person, by eliminating crutch words you will immediately sound smarter and become a more captivating speaker.
My personal crutch word used to be “I mean”. What crutch words do you tend to fall back on?
Feature image credit: Illustration by David Folkerson