The Voldemort of Syllables

The “umm” count with more than half the day left!

I pride myself on being able to work through distractions, the garden variety water cooler talk doesn’t usually impact me unless I’m choosing to interact, however, I’m living with a distraction of Voldemort like proportions.  One word.  I visualize it swirling around us all, its black cloak pulling us into an abyss of empty minds, stealing all ability to communicate a cohesive thought, numbing our tongues and causing our intended target to bill us as useless…UM.  That’s it.  One syllable so profound in its firmly earned its place in every version of the English language dictionary.

Call me picky but I would rather be left out of any conversation that incorporates “um” as a transition.  No single utterance communicates “I’m unsure” more than “um”, and who wants information from the person who doesn’t know?

For some people these two letters are consistent interjections, rote turn of phrase or syllables.  I’d like to attribute its frequent usage to the fact that generations are turning to text and type for their communication more often than direct conversations but how would I explain experience professionals love for it?  Does the usage ever make sense?

While I don’t think we will ever get rid of the pesky creature, I offer a few brief words of advice for reducing its verbal appearances:

1.  The pause:  Old school and proven!  If you’re not sure of where you’re going with your statements, take a minute….okay, maybe not a minute but a breath.  The pause doesn’t have to be noticeable but you’d be amazed at what halting at an opportune moment will do to your vocabulary.  I don’t know the exact science behind a pause but I know the effect.  Your mind will become a thesaurus the minute you breathe.  My little biology class recollection does tell me that when you’re breathing red blood cells are moving and rbc’s carry oxygen to the brain–could it be that a concerted breathe improves your ability to process a thought?  Who knows! Just try it.

2.  Prepared Statements:    The easiest communication to prepare for is voicemail.  While it’s a tough way to “sell”, it will often be the first hurdle you face.  Rate of return for voicemail can be less than 15%, factor in a precisely relayed message but I would wager that these numbers drop dramatically for an “umm” laden, drone fest–you could quickly be introduced to the delete key without even knowing.  Prepare several versions of a voicemail to avoid being too repetitive and get comfortable.  Read them enough to be fluid through the delivery and you’ll save yourself a wasted call and embarrassment.

3.  Don’t think and speak:  There are few masters of extemporaneous speaking, even Presidents are known to use Teleprompters, so don’t feel pressured to speak “off the cuff” unless it’s what you do well.  This can apply to any telephone situation.  If you’re dialing with the anticipation of getting your prospect on the phone, write out the framework of the expected conversation as well as questions that you would like to ask.  It won’t be 100% within your control–dialogue not a soliloquy is the aim when prospecting–but it will assure you that don’t walk away with unanswered questions and prevent you from sounding uninformed.

4.  Relax: I’m well aware that being a social butterfly isn’t an inherent trait for everyone; however, relaxing before you dial or present isn’t a bad idea.  Rookie salespeople often go into cold calling situations with the expectation of hearing “no” which creates tension and elevated fear (sometimes even dial resistance).  This is the perfect scenario for second guessing yourself and getting a case of the ‘ummsies’.  My best suggestion “let go of what you THINK will happen and work for what you WANT to happen!”

5. Slow Down:  High level sales are rarely a one and done situation.  As a matter of fact, the best deals are usually created in layers.  Understanding this will help you prioritize what you NEED to say during each call.  Without prioritization you verbally throw up on your target (sorry for the visual) and your thoughts will crowd one another.  Why rush through when you know that you are creating relationships for the long haul.  The suggestion to slow down can also be applied to any salesperson trying to fit every sales quote or cliché that they’ve ever heard into a conversation.  Words trip over one another, become meaningless and when you begin running out of things to say the “nasty little syllable” creeps in.  Slow down, insert verbal punctuation (stops for periods, pauses for commas, etc.), and enjoy the craft of selling.

6. Listen To Yourself–This one’s simple:  When you pay attention to how frequently you say a word you will say it less.

7. Talk Less:  If you ran out of things to say, you should have probably stopped speaking!  The easiest way to create something to say is to hold an actual conversation.  Say the necessary, ask questions wait for a response, reply if necessary, and repeat!

8. Eliminate other filler:  Words including like, so, yeah, and uh huh create comfort and a passageway to using um.  Those words rarely fit well into a professional conversation so just like, avoid them, uh huh!

9. Let go of your comfort zone and the need to be perfect.  I’ve heard “I sound stupid” many times from new salespeople.  The interesting thing about this is, usually the recipient of the message, is less educated about what you do than you are.  They don’t know exactly how you fit and therefore aren’t judging the message.  Their goal is to decipher whether or not any of this is worth their while and if you insert your uncomfortable verbiage in the mix they may make this decision too quickly for their own good, least of all yours.

1o. Educate yourself.  When you know more about your client you’re more comfortable interacting with them.  The same can be said, and should be an unspoken rule, when applied to your product and it’s features/benefits.

While the personal world is being relegated to the deep cover of abbreviated text language, there aren’t many business relationships conducted 100% electronically, make “strong verbal communications” more than a bullet on your resume!

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9 thoughts on “The Voldemort of Syllables

  1. Wonderful suggestions! Verbal communication is so important and sadly becoming a lost art. I love your suggestion to have a “prepared statement” – my fifteen year old often does that before she makes a call to an adult when she is inquiring about a work or volunteer opportunity,or leaving a message for one of her coaches.

    • I love that your fifteen year old is already forming a great habit! It’s one of the easiest ways to guide yourself through a call. As for verbal communication being a lost art, it’s sad when you realize that while less people are communicating verbally they’re not doing a great job in written format either!

    • Agreed from my personal experience as well! The minute you begin to allow the other parties to speak more things seem to flow seamlessly, you ask more questions, and become more effective in my opinion!

  2. A great and humorous way of addressing a persistent language tick that shows up in unexpected places. I will admit that I use “um”, I use it right after someone says something foolish to me. It’s to give them an opportunity to rephrase or retract. 🙂

    • For lack of better terms, LOL! That’s a totally different scenario than business usage and sounds like you have every intention of using that “word” in a way that makes a point! Love it!

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