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Actually, It Was Kinda Epic!

Every time I turn on my radio, watch T.V. or sit through a presentation, I hear filler phrasing that makes me want to cover my ears.  The words 'actually', 'kinda' and 'sorta' are creeping into every spoken paragraph. Oh, and let us not forget 'like', 'uh', 'you know' and 'basically'. When someone constantly notices these things, it's called "frequency illusion".  I suppose that just comes with being a presentation skills coach.  I've ruined my ability to neutrally listen to someone speak.  I hear every tic.  My goal in this article is to create a "frequency illusion" inside your heads so you'll recognize the phenomenon and learn how to STOP DOING IT!

Let's deconstruct this sentence:  "Actually, it was kinda epic!"  Epic by definition means extending beyond the usual or ordinary especially in size or scope.  Actually refers to what is real.  It should read:  "It was epic."  That says it all.  Either something is beyond the usual or it isn't.  It's either real or it's not.  If it's neither, then the sentence should have been, "While the experience didn't meet my expectations, it was very impressive".  Either make a bold statement that you can commit to or say it in a different way that is truly what you meant.

I uncovered this wonderful New York Times article by Steven Kurutz,The 'Kind of, Sort of' Era, that addresses this very issue better than any I've read.  Kurutz uses great examples and suggests a reason for the use of these hedge words.  I strongly encourage you to read it.  Once you do, you will be amazed to learn how thoroughly these words have infiltrated our language.

Just recognizing this behavior, doesn't fix the problem.  If you want to sound confident and persuasively interesting, you must stop speaking like this.  Language tics are habits that have been reinforced sometimes for years.  Breaking these patterns will take a concerted effort but will serve you well in your professional career.

I have three suggestions for how you can begin this transformation.

1.  Catch Yourself- You can't break a habit you're not aware of.  These hedge words have become such a part of your speech patterns you might not even hear yourself saying them.  You need a monitor (recording device or live partner) to raise your awareness.  Turn your phone recorder on when you're in casual conversations with friends or colleagues.  (Be sure to tell them you're recording and maybe even why.)  Play it back and count all the hedge words in a five minute conversation. You'll be shocked to hear how many show up.  You'll also hear plenty of other filler words as well.  Another option is to ask someone to count them for you, or snap their fingers when you use a filler or hedge word.  The snapping will drive you nuts but you'll soon become aware of these bad habits.

2. Stop Yourself- Once you are aware of using these unnecessary words, you can break the habit. "Think before you speak", my mom used to say to me. If you slow down and mentally formulate your sentences, you are more careful in your word choice and your message will be clearer.  You can then speak with conviction and commit to the word epic.  In a safe environment, when you catch yourself hedging, stop and repeat the sentence, omitting the hedge words.  If they slip in, take a breath, repeat the sentence again until you can say the phrase without the fillers.  Pause at the end of the sentence and think about the first word in the next sentence which better not be 'actually' or 'so'.  After a day or so, ask your monitor if you're improving.

3.  Become a Monitor- Now that you are personally experiencing "frequency illusion" it's your obligation to pass the awareness along.  Among your friends or colleagues bring up the subject of fillers and hedge words and challenge them to start listening for them and break the habit.  Offer to be their monitor for a short time.  Short being the operative word here.  You will be a thorn in their side so go easy and stand a sock-in-the-nose- away in case you start driving them nuts.

In closing, when you start paying attention to these unnecessary words, you'll be mad at me.  I will have ruined you, too.  You'll never again be a neutral observer.   When you stop yourself or someone else from using them, you'll thank me.

Contact Red Cup Presentations if you actually kinda sorta need help with an upcoming presentation or want help breaking any habits that are interfering with your message.


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