There’s a very popular addition to the language around at the moment. It is used by a majority of speakers from TV and radio presenters, public speakers and possibly members of your family.

It is unfortunately taking over all our conversations and threatening to destroy clear and concise communication. It will double the amount of time that it takes to deliver a simple message and its overuse can affect the ability of our listeners to understand our message. What is it? It is the ubiquitous expressions UM and URR.

If we are forced to listen to a sufferer from this vocal virus we will often find ourselves concentrating on the number of times it creeps into the conversation; we get fixated on it, counting the times it is used. We can get irritated with the speaker, and that irritation will affect the way we receive the actual topic under consideration.

When I first started my public speaking career, which was over twenty years ago, this vocal virus was an isolated disease but now it has become an epidemic and often, when answering a question, it will be the first word out the victim’s mouth.

Is there no cure? Well yes there is, all is not lost ~ all it needs is an understanding of the problem, concentration and practice.

First the problem – UM is a word that we use to fill in the silent pause used by people who don’t quite know what to say. UM… see what I … URR mean? Often it is the first reaction to being asked a question and used as a security blanket while organising our thoughts.

So if that is the problem, what is the answer? Well you need to know just how badly the virus is affecting you, so you will need a friend or family member to be brutally honest. Ask them to listen to your conversation and count how many times you succumb to the disease. I am afraid that the results may be alarming, but take heart there is a simple medication, it’s called “The Pause for Poise”

Just remember that UM or URR will only take over when you are thinking, it is a verbal pause for thought. So Step 1 on your way to a cure is to Shut the mouth when not speaking. Mouth breathing will allow the virus in, and when we take a breath without speaking, the exhaled breath often triggers the vocal virus.

Step 2 is to pause while you think about the next thing you are going to say. Use nasal breathing techniques with a firmly closed mouth while considering your response, and when you do open your mouth to speak you will find that you have defeated the virus. This is known as “The Pause for Poise”.

Appoint yourself a vocal coach, a close friend, family member or work colleague to monitor your progress, to make you more aware of how you are doing with your cure. Reward yourself for your first virus free day ~ you will have earned it. Work at eliminating the vocal virus from your ordinary speech and it will not attack you in your public presentations.

For more tips on vocal health subscribe to our E-Journal at and join our campaign to eliminate this disease from the English language!

Michele @ Trischel

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