Kind of Meaningless Vibrations, Sort of….

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I sat in on a teleconference a few days ago that discussed environmental literacy in the media. A group of young journalists  want to analyze how people get and how they hear and understand environmental news. Their goal is to improve the role that journalists play in finding the important stories and defining the values and concerns of the readership to bring them personally into the issues. Great. All for it.

But I had a hard time, when the two moderators would come into the conversation to direct the mic focus to one or another of the participating speakers, because one of these young men could not bring fewer than 3 useless figures of speech into every sentence.

I know he is an intelligent and articulate and well-educated young man, and is obviously passionate about what he is trying to do, and his cause is a good one.

But I will confess that, since maybe high school, I have found uhs, and ums, and other filler-sound-pointless words or empty phrases  completely distract me from what the professor or minister or politician or speaker has to tell me.

I have old course notebook pages filled with hash marks of UHs from one particular prof, always thinking TODAY he’s going to set a Guiness World Record for non-word-packing in a single lecture.

And so I’m debating, in the response feedback we are to fill out for the teleconference, if it would be appropriate to point this conspicuous speech pattern to this young man, for his long-term benefit. I’ve done the same thing with someone in my own son, who, you know, has sort of picked up empty phrases, and sort of peppered his otherwise wise and well targeted speech with these useless bits.

Do I overstep good taste or insult this young man by offering him this suggestion to try to remove these habitual and distracting contentless sounds from his speech so that he’s a better speaker? What would you do? Is this just ME?

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. Pointing out any kind of distraction from the young man’s message would be welcomed, I would guess. Feedback forms are asking for helpful suggestions and this is certainly one that would contribute to a better presentation. Your style is thoughtful and easy on the ear.

  2. Fred, I don’t see this as an insult. It is “mentoring” to me. Cloak your critique in the positive as you did here and it could be quite the motivator for him. People , including teachers and professors don’t do this enough in my opinion.

  3. Fred, it’s often helpful to make any criticism part of a positive statement, so maybe you could tell this person, “Your comments were terrific and if I were you, I wouldn’t hesitate to boldly state them. At times, you seemed concerned about being too forthright and added “ums” and “uhs” to your speech. Just say what you have on your mind. It’s GOOD!”
    The truth is, Fred, most journalists have tons of confidence (especially in the area of his expertise) and it’s likely he just doesn’t realize he’s adopted this bad speech habit!

  4. Yup. Point it out to him in no uncertain terms, so he realizes how important it will be to his future success to correct this.

  5. Oh please, point it out to him. I find those useless words so very annoying that I stop listening. I think the initial embarrassment is worth the opportunity to break a bad habit.

  6. Yup, um, I would, like, definitely point it, er, the hash marked glossolalia, out to him. Them. Whoever. Right.

    I know my kids are the better for it. I, uh, think. 😉