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How to, Um, Talk Better

Posted by Ilena Di Toro | Posted on September 11, 2018

Philadelphia is fortunate to have over 80 colleges and universities located in the metropolitan area. This means that most people who live in the Philadelphia area can continue their schooling from undergraduate to graduate, as well as post graduate education without having to go very far.

Of course, there are those who do leave the area to continue their education and that’s when it becomes important to speak clearly, in particular enunciate your words and be careful as to which regional terms you use. In some parts of the country, people get a sub and a pop for lunch. In others, it is a hoagie and a soda for lunch. Either way, they are both having a sandwich and a soft drink for lunch.

Speaking clearly is especially important in healthcare since patients’ health depend on the information given to them by the healthcare professional(s). It isn’t just the jargon that is a stumbling block. When people talk, they use filler words, such a “um,” “ah,” and “you know” when they are nervous, distracted, or at a loss for meaningful words. These are known as ‘disfluencies’ and they serve a purpose in allowing for time to gather thoughts. They can be useful to help others know to pay attention to what is coming next. The real problem comes when they are overused. Overuse of disfluencies can diminish a person’s credibility.

If anyone needs credibility, it is someone who provides direct patient care. Using disfluencies can prevent the listener from being attentive to your words because the ums and ahs get in the way of information you are trying to share. Another bad thing about disfluencies is that they make the speaker sound disengaged with the person he or she is talking to. Lastly, disfluencies make it hard for the listener to follow what the speaker is saying, since all the ums get in the way of the message the speaker wants to impart.

If disfluencies are bad, why do we use them? Researchers who study speech theorize that we have been conditioned to fill the conversational void even when we don’t have anything to say. So, the ums and ahs fill the silence while we think of what to say next. Still, not all is lost, since it is possible to stop using disfluencies by just pausing and saying nothing when you are transitioning between ideas.

Utilizing a pause is easier said than done since we think faster than we talk. The numbers are 400 words per minute when thinking versus 150 per minute when speaking. Therefore, a pause can seem longer than it really is. Yet, pausing isn’t too hard to learn. Think of the last movie or television show you saw. More often than not, the actors didn’t use disfluencies, and if they did it was for comedic or dramatic effect.

A pause can make you sound calm and assured. It can help you to gather your thoughts if you lose track of what you are going to say. Patients want their doctor to sound like someone who knows their information. The ums and ahs don’t help in that regard. Practice key phrases that you usually say to patients. Practice will help to get rid of the fillers. As a result, your speech will flow better and patients will have an easier time understanding what you are saying. When patients understand what is being said, they will be more likely to do as the doctor says.


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