Dealing With The “UHHH” Factor

I once published a column about people whose every third word was “Like”. I mentioned how I wouldn’t hire people who spoke so carelessly, since this wasn’t the image I wanted to project for my business.

Many readers apparently found this verbal tic equally annoying. Reports came in of parents sending my thoughts to their offspring, hoping the lesson might help improve the youngsters’ job prospects.

So you can imagine my delight when I heard Retired Naval Commander Michael Moffat speak last week at the Rancho Bernardo, California Sunrise Rotary Club breakfast about what he called “The ‘UHHH’ Factor.”

“I listen to 9-12 meeting speakers monthly” he reported “and I sometimes have trouble concentrating on the subject matter in the speeches.”

“The key seems to be the ‘UHHH’ Factor, where the amount of information retained by the listener is inversely related to the number of times per minute that the speaker inserts an out-of-context ‘uhhh’.

Commander Moffat reported:

  • 0-4 “UHHH”s per minute are usually unnoticeable
  • 4-8 are distracting
  • 8-12 have audiences paying more attention to the “UHHHS” than the message
  • 12+ make people leave the room early

As a frequent public speaker, I understand the need to sometimes pause and collect one’s thoughts. Yet I can’t count how often I’ve been turned off by a speaker’s inability to deliver a concise message.

I’m obviously not alone.

My public speaking career has taught me the tremendous value of appearing before an audience as an expert. My message goes to dozens in the same time I might have previously reached one or two, and countless business opportunities have appeared before me this way.

Part of my success has been because I watch my use of “Uhhh”, “Um”, “Er”, and “Like”.

Still, Commander Moffat provided hope; “Once an individual is made aware of their ‘UHHH’ Factor, it will drop dramatically in their subsequent presentations.”

Helping yourself, then, becomes as easy as recording your next public presentation. Count your verbal hiccups, and see if you’re offending the ears of your listeners. You might be surprised by what you discover.

Moffat agrees. “Listen to yourself, and you will be much easier to listen to,” he urges.