The Journey

A Diary of my Pursuit of Life\’s Best


“As playing the role of grammarian in my Toastmasters club has taught me, clarity is key.  Plus, you gain your listeners ’attention and respect through the substance of what you say.  I once attended a litigation seminar given by a trial lawyer.  He ‘ummed’ over 160 times in a 15-minute presentation (a rate of more than 10 ‘ums’ per minute, which was distracting.  All I could think about was, ‘Is he this bad when appearing before the
United States Securities and Exchange Commission?’  He got my attention, but for all the wrong reasons.  And I can’t remember anything he said.”

We can all empathise with Nina Kaufman, a member of the SEC Roughriders Toastmasters chapter in
New York City.  Surely, having to listen to such a speaker is the saddest thing that can happen to any audience!  Can you imagine what it would feel like to be part of that audience?  Of course you can!  You’ve been there, I’ve been there, we’ve all been there.  The worst part about it is that because you are a Toastmaster, verbal crutches stick out like a sore thumb.  So you begin to count them, and fervently wish that you were in a Toastmasters session where you can tap against the glass.  And then you begin to get tired of counting.  You get restless … chaffed … finally, you say to yourself, “If I hear one more um, I’ll SCREAM!!!”  Then you smile to yourself, because at that moment, the speaker wraps up his presentation.  Talk about impeccable timing.  He seems to have read your mind!!!

Having been in similar situations and hated the experience, why do we limp through our speeches, table topics, reports, conversations?  Why have verbal crutches continued to rear their ugly heads in our lives and Toastmasters sessions? 

I say it’s because we are lazy!  Verbal crutches are to speech what erasers are to writing.  The more complacent you are with an assignment, the more likely you are to make mistakes, and the more likely you are to use an eraser.  So it is with speaking.  As long as we are not completely focused on the speaking assignment at hand, we are bound to use pause fillers. 

But we continue to justify our use of them.  “I was caught off-guard,” we say.  “I don’t know the first thing about buying a house.”  We call the spade a big spoon again and again and again.  The truth is, if any of these excuses were acceptable, we would have more than 100 ums in a 2-hour Toastmasters session.  But we don’t.  On a bad day, we have 25.  Why?  Because at Toastmasters we are accountable.  And so we think before we speak, and use the eloquent pause to emphasise our statements.  We recall past events, and from the museums of our memories, we come up with responses.  We celebrate our progress from nervous crutch-filled utterances to catchy, crutch-free speeches! 

And then we forget and short-change the rest of our audiences.  We fail to rehearse our presentations as we should and either read through them, or fumble through them.  We accept the applause when we are declared ‘Best Speaker’ at the event.  But should we?  Better than the rest is not good enough!  As long as we have confined ourselves to the comfort zones of our speaking, we are guilty of embracing the enemy called average. 

The secret to eloquence lies in exposure.  The more we read, the greater our ideas.  The more we write, the greater our command of language.  The more we speak, the greater our confidence.  The more passionate we become about our topics, the less our ums.  Finally, the more we practise, the closer we get to perfection. 

Because man is a creature of habit, Toastmasters is not enough for eloquence.  There are approximately 488 waking hours per month for every Toastmaster.  Toastmasters accounts for only 4 of them, and what we do with the other 484 determines our command of the lectern.  Crutch-free speaking must be a constant pursuit.  Otherwise we will be wasting our time, our subscriptions and other Toastmasters’ time.


April 16, 2007 - Posted by | Uncategorized


  1. I agree that filler words can reflect lack of preparation, or “laziness” as you call it. But let’s not forget that public speaking often surpasses death as people’s greatest fear . . . so the crutches may also reflect our fear of being judged/criticized harshly by the audience, and the nervousness that results. Yes, we can overcome it through practice. Sometimes, though, and particularly with less experienced speakers, we need to help them overcome the underlying reason for “ums” (the fear of rejection) as well as help them develop the skill of “taming the butterflies” through practice.

    That said, I can’t begin to come up with an excuse for that securities litigator I mentioned in my recent aricle! 🙂

    Comment by Nina Kaufman | April 16, 2007 | Reply

  2. haiya wangu?you have a blog?just discovered it today.

    Comment by v-key/viki | April 17, 2007 | Reply

  3. Ah, there you are ToastM. Will look out for more bites

    Comment by bankelele | April 27, 2007 | Reply

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