Uh, this may help

27 Jan

Today I want to talk to you about getting your messages across clearly.

It seems to me that as a society, we fear silence and feel compelled to fill gaps with words and sounds that have no meaning or purpose and we end up sounding a little thick in the process. It doesn’t have to be this way.

Though I’m personally trying to banish gap-filling sounds when I talk (hard lessons learned from working with the media), I sometimes consciously breathe out an “u-u-uh” in mid-speech as an indication that I don’t want to be interrupted because I am still thinking. Sometimes the insertion of a deliberate time-filler can work, but most times it doesn’t do us any favours.

Over the course of our lives, we go through stages of speech which, while we’re young at least, conform to peer pressure and often we use filler words that don’t mean anything and merely take up space. Take for example the word ‘like’ and the way it is used by young people (including me when I was a kid), as in “I’m like… and she’s like… and I’m all like,” etc. It serves no purpose, exists purely as filler, and definitely doesn’t make us look any smarter.

Using words or sounds that serve no purpose fills the space that our words are meant to hang in, where we could actually be making a point or saying something interesting instead of talking for no reason. Listening to impotent drivel can be rather tiresome, reduce our credibility, cause people to think less of us, and not take us seriously.

It is possible to eliminate these habitual gap-filling sounds if we become conscious of them and think about what we say before we say it by editing ourselves while we talk and getting a better bang for our verbal buck. Eloquence is lovely and makes a wonderful impression, but it takes practise.

For those of you who follow this blog, you’ll already know the way I feel about hockey and you may find it odd that I spent a couple of hours on You Tube watching interviews with hockey players for today’s post. Why did I do this? Hockey players are notorious for peppering their speech with hesitant filler sounds that drain meaning and punch from their statements, which makes me wonder if they’ve taken one too many pucks to the head.

To illustrate my point, I have transcribed some interview clips for you:

During a 2008 media scrum, Sidney Crosby was asked what he expected for that year: “Uh, I don’t think we’re changin’ our expectations, uh, everyone wants to win the Stanley Cup, but we all uh, realize that uh, the season’s long and there are a lot of things that can happen but um, it’s got to be short-term goals…”

It’s different in print, isn’t it? Try again Sid.

When asked about representing Canada at the Olympics, Crosby retorts, “Yeah, that would be uh, a great experience, um, I’ve played for Team Canada before but you know, we’re talking about the Olympics, that’s uh, a whole new stage and a whole new experience, so u-u-um, if given the chance, uh, that would be great and uh, it’s one of those things where uh, timing is everything and uh, the team is based on the Olympic year so it’s uh, easy not to get too caught up in it because you know, it’s uh still a ways away but it’s sneaking up on us here… uh… it would be a great experience.”

Whatever he’s trying to say gets lost in a murky sea of “uh” which, when bolded to draw your attention, overpowers his points and doesn’t resonate very well. A bit flaccid, one might say.

I didn’t want to pick on young Sidney, so I had a look at some vintage hockey interviews (because we all know I don’t know who plays the game currently, so I tapped into names I remember from the past). I watched clips of good old prairie boy, Lanny McDonald, who not only spoke at a brisker pace, but kept the filler to a minimum. During his interview with sports announcer, Dave Hodge, he talked about his delight having Don Cherry as a coach:

Dave: “I know you’re very happy in Denver to play for Don Cherry and you have nothing but good things to say about him; [now] he’s gone, Billy McMillan is there… has it been difficult for the players who were so close to Cherry?”

Lanny: “Oh, it was a very trying time over the summer to realize that Don Cherry wouldn’t be back, uh, for me, he put the fun back in the game; I just loved playing for the guy and it was a highlight in my career, and now Billy has stepped in and between him and Terry Harper, they’ve done just a super job. Terry’s done really well with the defense and uh, as you can see, uh, we’ve had good results out there.”

Lanny, I dig what you’re saying and I’m sure Don, Billy, and Terry all appreciate your sentiments.

Though rather tight-lipped and monotone, I was impressed with Paul Coffey who almost never used filler while he was interviewed. His responses to questions were brief and to the point. In the interview I watched, the announcer asked him how he felt about playing against his old teammates from Edmonton for the first time as a Pittsburgh Penguin: “Well, it’s a little strange, there’s no doubt about that. I think uh, you know, I was very fortunate to spend some good years in Edmonton and I really appreciate the time I had there, and I think that anytime you have to face your old teammates, it’s a little tough.”

That rolled a lot better, didn’t it? Mr. Coffey’s remarks are much more pointed and clear. Nicer to read too.

It seems to me that hockey players would be a gold mine for media trainers, though the training doesn’t seem to be employed often enough for some reason. Hockey is entertainment after all, so besides being slick on the ice, it would be beneficial to the players who speak to the media to be equally as polished to cast a good light on themselves, their team, and the entire NHL.

We are like these hockey players in the sense that we may be talented at our jobs and in our lives, but if we sound like mumbling dumb-dumbs when we speak, we’re really doing ourselves an injustice.

I hope you’ve all caught my drift.

Over and out.

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3 Responses to “Uh, this may help”

  1. Sheila Caporali February 2, 2011 at 12:26 pm #

    Very interesting blog you released today. Leads me to my next goal of recording myself speak so I can listen to how I sound to others. One of those things that have been on my “to do” list for too long. Thank you for the motivation.

  2. Britteny Tua February 10, 2011 at 6:41 pm #

    great post! keep it on!

  3. keshav February 20, 2011 at 4:20 pm #

    Nice

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