Are You Accidentally Making Yourself Look Less Professional?

“I, um, I just wanted to say that, ah, …”

I just came from a presentation given by an expert in their field. Well, the presenter’s bio said they were an expert in the topic. But right from the beginning, I had my doubts. It had nothing to do with content of the presentation and EVERYTHING to do with delivery. You see, I counted 5 ‘um’s and ‘ah’s from the speaker in the first 3 minutes of their presentation. Not a good sign. I knew it was going to be a painful 90 minutes.

You might wonder why I started counting the ‘um’s and ‘ah’s. It comes naturally, from being a Toastmaster. One of the things we do at our Toastmasters meetings, at least at my club, is to count ‘um’s, ‘ah’s and other filler words spoken aloud … by EVERY person attending the meeting.

The Ah Counter, the person spending the entire meeting focusing on this task, reports the number of times – every – single – person – said those words during the meeting. At first it sounds like an awful thing to have done to you: Someone counts your ‘um’s and ‘ah’s and then tells the entire room how many you uttered. Embarrassing!

In fact, it’s a gift. You can no longer live in blissful ignorance of your bad habit. And that’s a good thing. Because once you are aware of your penchant to say ‘um’ and ‘ah’, you become instantly aware of it the next time one of those words comes out of your mouth.

So you can immediately begin to STOP saying them by developing strategies and tips to put in place each time you speak in public. It all starts with awareness. And then you work at it, every time you speak in front of others.

And don’t forget the pride that will result from this: The day the Ah Counter SKIPS your name because you didn’t utter a single ‘um’, ‘ah’, or any other filler word is a great day! That, my friends, is a real moment to celebrate!

You can be THE expert in your field, but your content and your professionalism won’t shine through to your audience if you utter 177 ‘um’s and ‘ah’s in your 87-minute presentation.

Yes, that was the final count during the presentation I watched today: 177 ‘um’s and ‘ah’s. I didn’t bother to count the other filler words. The 177 was bad enough. It was painful for the audience. It was all anyone talked about at the break. But did the speaker even realize they had this habit?

I engaged the speaker during the break, asking a question about the content of the presentation. After a few moments, the speaker asked for some feedback on their presentation. They brought up the topic of the ‘um’s themselves, which created an opening for me introduce ways to overcome them. All in all, it worked out well. The fact that the speaker was already aware of the bad habit to some degree made it easy for us to have the conversation.

Here are some strategies and tips to stop saying filler words that have worked for me and for my clients:

  1. Create an awareness that you say ‘um’, ‘ah’ and other filler words. Have a colleague be your own personal Ah Counter, record yourself, etc.
  2. Know your topic inside and out and know what you want to say inside and out. That way, the information comes out of your mouth with ease and confidence; no searching for what to say next.
  3. Keep your mouth closed. When you are thinking of what to say next, make an effort to keep your mouth closed. When we open our mouths when we are thinking, we tend to utter sounds like ‘um’, ‘ah’ or other filler words.
  4. Choreograph how you will move from idea to idea, slide to slide. That means knowing what comes next, and next, and next in your presentation. You don’t have to memorize a script, but you should know the flow of your presentation by heart. (After all, what would you do if you had no slides??)
  5. Work on your confidence speaking in front of a room. You might even consider joining Toastmasters.

Have an insight, strategy or tip for reducing the number of filler words we say? Please share in the comments below.

Wishing you every success in your public speaking!

All the best,


Quality Assurance Communication

PS: Keep an eye out for my open workshops in the Rhein-Neckar region on how to Prepare and Deliver a Dynamic Presentation hosted by the IHK. The next one is in three weeks!


From Good to Great Business Reports in 3 Easy Steps

Working with a new client recently has hammered home a few key points about how any team can take their business reports from good to great. This is especially critical if you have a new team, new report writing responsibilities in an existing team, or a team that is located around the globe.

As part of the project to improve their report writing abilities, I analysed the reports this new department had published so far. In parallel, I had in-depth conversations with management about the department’s role, their stakeholders and the desired impact of their reports on the organisation.

What I realized was that the same limitations and roadblocks that affect well-established teams as they write and publish business reports affected this department. Very often:

  • A report template exists, but it is being used differently by the teams or team members within the department.
  • Report writing guidance in the form of a manual doesn’t exist, or it exists but isn’t being used actively by members of the team.
  • No official report writing ‘quality control mechanism’ exists within the department, except for the ‘chain of command’ review when a team is finalizing a report.

As a result, there is no consistent content, style, language or formality in the reports published.

This can be further complicated by having strict limitations on the length of reports. One recent conversation with a client went like this:

Me: “How long are your reports on average?”

Client: “Up to 30 pages, two pages maximum is allowed per topic, and the executive summary can only be one page long.”

Me: “I notice that risk to the business isn’t addressed in the executive summaries of half of the reports.”

Client: “That’s because we ran out of space, so we left it out.”

Me (in my head): Ouch.

Does any of this sound familiar? If it does, there are 3 easy steps that you can take to ensure your team’s business reports go from good to great:

1. Document internal guidelines

Document internal guidelines for business report writing that define the content required in each section of the report, common terms that should be used in your specific context, and style and formality requirements.

It’s okay to include desired length of sections, chapters and the full report, but these should be a guidelines. If team members are struggling to meet these limits, the underlying cause may not be report length, but critical thinking skills.

2. Conduct team training globally

Conduct team training globally to push out the new report writing guidelines. Such training is much easier these days because of the wonders of technology. Gone are the days of having to bring your entire team together physically.

It can also be helpful to provide the team with a report that is already written using the new guidelines. That way, your team has a model so they can see how the new guidelines work in practice. When the team is aware of and understands your expectations, they can meet them!

3. Get buy in from the top.

It’s important that the team’s top managers support the guidelines and contribute to having them taken on board. This might mean an encouraging email sent to all team members or a short introduction at the beginning of the training session.

Feedback will ensure the new guidelines are followed. I propose that as a team manager, you edit less, and instead, meet with your team member who wrote the report. Highlight where the report hits the mark, and where the report misses the report. Then send the team member off to make the necessary adjustments.

In no time at all, your team will be writing more consistent, professional, value-added reports. Your stakeholders will notice the improvement (remember, no news is good news, but positive feedback is great). And you’ll save time, because you aren’t the one actually making the revisions. Win, win, win!

All the best,


Quality Assurance Communication

Put Your Dancing Shoes On, It’s Time to Rock the Stage

Preparation is critical to my success, whether I’m delivering a workshop or speaking to a roomful of my ideal clients.  And whenever I get ready to speak in those situations, I like to take a step back and plan my dance moves… I like to call it my ‘choreography’.

This week I’m delivering two Audit Report Writing workshops to a new client. Because it’s the first time I’m delivering a full workshop(s) to them, it’s important that I get it right.

I’ve invested time getting to know the client and their staff, I’ve tailored the training material to their audit methodology, and I’ve gotten the stamp of approval from the Head of Internal Audit to deliver the workshops.

There’s one thing left to do before I go ‘on stage’: make sure I am ready to seamlessly move from one key message to the next, change from one slide to the next, and transition from topic to topic.

Here are 7 of the strategies I use to prepare myself for any presentation or speech, which I share in more detail in my Preparing Powerful Content workshop:

  1. Plan the first section of your presentation carefully. I still do it for my Audit Report Writing workshop, even though I’ve delivered it well over 50 times.
  2. Identify the relevant aspects of your experience and qualifications to resonate with that particular audience. This will create instant credibility during your self-introduction.
  3. Plan the key messages for every slide. Include supporting anecdote/example/comparison, and timing.
  4. Identify the ‘Ah-a moment’ of each slide in the body of your presentation. If there isn’t one, don’t show the slide.
  5. Plan the transitions between slides and topics. Use signposting language to take your audience by the hand with you.
  6. Know what you can cut out per slide and overall. Flexibility is key, and the audience shouldn’t feel that you are cutting anything out even if you are.
  7. Plan your conclusion. Skip the ‘Thank you for your attention’ slide and instead, focus on your main messages and call to action.

Why choreograph your next presentation?

When you are clear on these things, you can deliver with confidence and authenticity. Planning may take you 5 minutes, 50 minutes or 5 hours. Regardless, you will be far more successful, and your audience is much more likely to benefit from your messages if your choreography is mapped out before you put on your dancing shoes and step onto the stage.

Wishing you much success in your next presentation, speech or workshop!

All the best,


Quality Assurance Communication