Aug 11

Life Stories

By Celeste DeCamps | General

"Whatever life throws at me, I remind myself,  when I get through this, I will have a great story."

I was helping a young woman prepare for a presentation. She wanted to talk about her culture's tradition of arranged marriages. After reading her lengthy draft about this practice's history and tradition, I asked her why this was important to her. She said her parents were in the process of finding her a husband. They were setting up several interviews for her. She already met one young man named Oscar. The date didn't go very well, and it made her fearful for the future. I said this is the story I want to hear. Tell me more about Oscar and how the evening went. When she put her personal story together, not only did she end up with a hilarious speech, but her message had more impact. Her audience was intrigued and engaged at the same time. It opened up fascinating conversations as people explained how her account was relatable to their cultural experiences. She gained a deeper understanding of what she wanted in her life.

I'm sure you've heard the saying, "Fact is stranger than fiction." I found this to be true many times. The stories I've told about some of my experiences were met with skepticism because they seemed too far-fetched. An interesting phenomenon would happen when I relayed an event that happened to me. I realized I had a new understanding and perception of that memory. I was able to see the humor of what was a scary or frustrating moment at the time. I would also recognize the lessons that I had to learn the hard way. It's not that I put rose-colored glasses on and gloss over my past. I try to understand why I made particular decisions. Many events and circumstances are beyond our control, but how we face them can help us get through them. I remind myself, if anything else, I'll have a good story.

My friend told me that she felt terrible for her twelve-year-old son, who wouldn't be able to attend school because of the pandemic. I said I agree that this is a tough time for everyone. The one positive is that when he has his kids, and they complain about having to go to school, he'll be able to tell them about a time when he wasn't allowed to go because of a global pandemic. It made her smile, and she had to agree we're all going to come out of this with a renewed insight into ourselves.

My parents were reluctant to share much of their childhood stories. The little bit that they told me gave me a better understanding of how their experiences shaped their mindset. Getting to know their hardships and how they rose above their circumstances impressed me. Looking back at my childhood with adult eyes, I have a greater appreciation for what they accomplished.

We all face different challenges, but the more we can talk about it, the better we understand ourselves and others. That's the beauty of sharing our stories. It allows us to visit yesterday and see how far we've come. Not only do we have a new perception of our past events, but we can entertain and inspire others at the same time.

Aug 04

Myths of Public Speaking

By Celeste DeCamps | General

"Sharing our stories is sharing our hope."

I was a member of Toastmasters for five years. A global organization that assists people in developing their communication skills. I was part of a fantastic, supportive club that helped me immensely. I became a mentor, and the more I worked with other members, the more I learned how to be a better speaker. I became aware of many beliefs people held when it came to tackling public speaking. Dispelling these myths led to removing barriers we all put up when trying to improve ourselves.

The biggest misnomer is confident public speakers never get nervous. Yes, we would all love to be able to get up in front of a room full of people and feel comfortable without any anxiety. Good luck with that. The truth is, most presenters get butterflies no matter how many times we give a presentation. It's how we frame that anxiousness in our minds. The advice I got was to feel excited about sharing my talk. Let the energy pump me up instead of making me doubt myself. It's that anticipation of a rollercoaster ride, and I want to enjoy it. When we take the time to practice and prepare, there's no reason to believe our talk will fail.

Another myth is the belief that you need to be somebody else. A character that you create to entertain an audience. When we share our stories, our experiences, and our perceptions, we have to be ourselves. If not, we risk coming across as disingenuous. When we speak authentically, we establish trust with our audience. Our thoughts and ideas will have a more significant impact as we connect with our listeners.

I've worked with people who were concerned that they weren't expressive or outgoing enough to capture a group's attention. I explained that their speech was compelling and thought-provoking. The dynamics in their voice and tone came through naturally as well as their body language as they spoke. Bells and whistles are exciting, but if there's nothing worthwhile in the information, it will fall flat. Some of the best story-telling I've heard was delivered with casual simplicity.

Many people believe that every single line of a presentation must be memorized, or the speech will fall apart. I've watched speakers look up at the ceiling or down towards the floor as they try to remember their next line. If you've done your homework and prepared your speech, you shouldn't worry about memorizing every word you wrote. Your talk should have a beginning, a middle, and an end. For your lecture to flow, know how you'll transition from one point to another. You are the expert and should know your material inside and out. Watch your audience and see how engaged they are. You may find that a story or analogy would help explain your perspective better than you initially prepared. Staying in the moment and taking cues from your listeners will give you the results you want from your talk.

I believe with time, effort, and practice, anyone can improve their communication skills. It's easy to think that we have to look or be a particular way to be an impressive speaker, but that's not the reality. Telling our stories is how we all learn and grow our humanity. It's how we develop compassion and empathy for each other. Our challenges taught us life lessons. You never know who may need to hear your message to get them through a tough time. Hope and inspiration keep us striving to want to do better in our life. The only question I have is, what will you share today?

Jul 27

It’s My Party

By Celeste DeCamps | General

The exciting yearly event is happening again. My birthday is here. Yes, I still get excited about my birthday. I know I'm supposed to be fearful of getting older and watching myself age. I should be concerned about what life has in store for me. My friends want to know when I plan to get a cat. It seems we have a biological clock for pets too. The problem I have is, I've never been able to keep track of time. I don't always remember how old I am. I only know how I feel.

Most of the time, I feel like an awkward teenager. I remember when I turned sixteen. I thought that magically my body would look beautiful and become sexy overnight. Instead, I woke up and still had the figure of a twelve-year-old. The best part of being a professional belly dancer, for me, was wearing the costume. I had a fantastic shape with the help of a very padded top and a well-placed hip sash. Once I put on my t-shirt and jeans, I went back to looking like a pre-teen.

I still haven't understood the meaning of "act your age." When I'm with my seven-year-old nephew, all I want to do is play. We run around and act out scenes from Star Wars. He's a big Darth Vader fan. We do our best to destroy the rebels and have lightsaber fights. We turn on music and dance. We run around on the beach in search of aliens, and I enjoy every minute of it. I don't think about being fifty-seven. I think those aliens are around here, somewhere, and we will find them.

My dad once told me that women don't give out their age. He wanted to know why I tell people how old I am when they ask me. I said, "Well, I'm happy with all that I've accomplished and gone through to get to where I am today. I want credit." He laughed and said he never thought of it that way.

Of course, looking in the mirror reminds me of how old I am. Luckily, I don't carry my reflection around with me. My birthday always gives me a sense of hope of what the year has in store for me. I'm disappointed my plans for traveling and celebrating with friends have been canceled this year because of the pandemic. Still, I'm grateful that we have technology that will let us visit even if it's virtual.

The good thing about getting older is knowing that we can't predict the future, but we can still try to make the best of a bad situation. I've learned we have a choice in deciding our mindset. I believe a positive attitude is just as simple as having a negative one. That doesn't mean I don't fall into despair when I watch the news. I get angry and upset, and I worry about my family and friends. I remind myself to breathe and focus on the present. I take time to list all that I'm grateful for, and staying mindful puts me back on track. It's not always easy, but I've found it's worth the effort.

Age helps us mark the time we've been living on this planet, but I believe we are infinite. We're made up of energy and energy can't be destroyed. I think we're here to learn compassion and empathy. We're connected, and the more we understand that, the more we grow our humanity. We're here to find enlightenment and love unconditionally.

The time I have on this planet, I will use my power for good. Unless, of course, I have to put down a threat from the rebel resistance. My little Darth Vader and I will do our best to protect the dark side from the tricky Jedi. In the meantime, I wish everyone a joyful and happy birthday!

Jul 21

Let the Sunshine In

By Celeste DeCamps | General

THE SUN_ OUR PERSONAL PHARMACY IN THE SKY
THE SUN_ OUR PERSONAL PHARMACY IN THE SKY

I grew up in sunny South Florida. My family and I spent our summers going to the beach. Being very fair-skinned, I never tanned, I only burned. No, I didn't layout on a towel and roast my skin like a rotisserie chicken. I was way too hyper for that. I would get in the ocean and stay there. Of course, I always went home looking like a bright tomato. As I got older, I tried to be better about putting on gobs of sunscreen. It did help. I went home looking more like pink cotton candy. The point is, the sun is not as bad as everyone wants you to think. I have some good news for you, sun goddesses.

Many health experts are reporting that most of us aren't getting enough Vitamin D. Supplements can't replicate what the sun provides us for free. If you want to get the health benefits of the ball of fire in the sky, you may want to forgo the sunscreen. Let your skin soak up some rays for a short period of around ten to twenty minutes early in the morning. Vitamin D is essential in keeping our bones strong and improve our immune system, and sunlight helps our bodies absorb calcium. It may help prevent osteoporosis and multiple sclerosis.

But wait, there's more.

Researchers are finding that people living in sunnier climates have lower blood pressure. Dr. Richard Weller, a dermatologist from the Univerisity of Edinburgh, discovered that skin exposed to sunlight produces nitric oxide. This biological mechanism helps dilate blood vessels and lower blood pressure. He believes that with the sun's help, we can lower our chances of heart disease and stroke due to high blood pressure.
You can watch Dr. Weller's TED Talk here:

 Dr. Weller's TED Talk.

But wait, there's more.

Get a better night's sleep. The sun helps us produce the hormone, serotonin. This mood lifter keeps us relaxed and focused. Getting some sun can reset our circadian rhythms, making it easier to have a good night's rest. Sleeping better produces essential health benefits. It keeps our brain functioning at it's best.

But wait, there's more.

Lose weight, my favorite reason of all. According to WebMD, scientists think early morning sun may help shrink fat cells beneath the surface of our skin. An excellent motive to get outside and walk. Between the sun and exercise, we're helping increase our emotional well-being. Keeping ourselves in a positive state of mind will boost our immunity. Now, more than ever, we all need to do what we can to stay healthy.

Of course, if we're going to spend the day in bright sunlight, we should be wearing sunscreen. Sunburns hurt and will damage our skin. No one wants skin cancer, but the sun is our friend. Staying indoors does more harm than good. We all need fresh air and fun in the sun. Plus, I can't reach the refrigerator when I'm outside. 

Jul 14

The Walking Club

By Celeste DeCamps | General

"We only have this moment, this hour and this day. Remember to find time to smile."

My close friends are not very close. I live in New York. Dawn lives in Georgia, and Carolyn lives in Florida. We all grew up together in Miami. When Dawn and I moved away, we promised Carolyn that we would meet up once a year. We've kept that promise for the past two decades, and then the coronavirus showed up. We had to cancel our trip. I'm sure we're the only ones affected by this pandemic and feeling disappointed. We've all had to realize that we can't predict our future no matter how hard we try.

Carolyn had just retired from her job of thirty-nine years. She already had in place a whole new lifestyle of trips, reunions, and fitness. Her routine was going to include being involved in her community and meeting people. Instead, she found herself alone and in quarantine. The three of us have always talked together at least once a week. Dawn and I knew our friend was falling into a deep depression.

A couple of weeks ago, Dawn was furloughed from her job. She told us that she is making it a point to get herself outside for a walk every morning. She said, "I have an idea. Why don't you guys put on your sneakers and go with me at 7:30 in the morning? We can talk and walk together on the phone."

One of the best things with friends is that we always can find something to talk about. We describe the landscape, people, and animals we see along our different routes. Before we know it, we've walked longer than any of us intended to. We get engaged in our conversations that our exercise comes easily. We make each other laugh either going down memory lane or what silliness we'll get into when we can finally be together. We accuse each other of using sound effects to mimic being outside. I have a soundtrack of honking horns, barking dogs, and an occasional bird. Hey, sometimes it's hard to separate me from my pillow.

A pleasant side effect of our walks and talks is hearing Carolyn sound like her old bubbly self. She confided that knowing we were expecting her to be with us on the phone gave her a reason to get out of bed. She didn't feel so alone and felt inspired to find more to do for herself. We all agreed that our anxiety and stress had lessened. Getting fresh air and having something to smile about has done us all a lot of good.

This pandemic has turned all of our lives upside down. The uncertainty of what will happen next has put us on edge. We're learning more and more that we only have this moment, this hour and this day. I'm reaching out to family and friends regularly. I want to encourage everyone to take some time outside and feel the sun. If you start to find yourself feeling alone and anxious, call a friend. We need each other, and we need to be there for each other.

When you don't feel like going out, and your friends expect you to do a virtual walk, I have some tips. First, turn the sound off the tv. Second, make sure your outside sounds are realistic. I throw in a few sirens and construction noise. Last, try not to enjoy your cocktail too loudly. If they do hear you slurp, tell them it's a green smoothie. Stay safe and healthy.

Jul 06

5 Quick and Easy Tips to Help You Become a More Polished and Confident Speaker

By Celeste DeCamps | General

My mother was born and raised in a small town in Indiana. My dad was brought up in Queens, New York. One parent would drop the letter "R" in certain words, and the other would put "R's" in where they shouldn't be. It's a wonder I can speak and be understood at all. 

My mother used to have a southern accent. When she was younger, she worked for a doctor. One day he told her, "Geraldine, you're a brilliant woman, but when you speak, you sound like a dumb hick. Take your time and learn to enunciate your words." She took his advice. She worked very hard to smooth out her speech and articulate her words carefully. Her southern drawl only came out when she talked to her mother or when she was very mad. I loved the sound of her voice and how beautifully she spoke. She told me that speaking well was essential, and a way to be taken seriously. It gave her confidence. It motivated me to work on my communication skills and to want to help others become better speakers. 

Growing up, our speech template is created by the voices we hear. As we get older, we pick up the slang of our peers, along with their verbal patterns. We use the same filler words and expressions, "like, ya know, oh my gawd, fuggedaboutit." Eventually, we need to take stock of our verbiage and clean it up. A polished, self-assured speaker always makes a great impression. 

Here are five tips to be a more eloquent orator. 

  1. The problem: Ending sentences that sound like a question even though we're not asking one. This happens when we raise the pitch of our voice when we finish speaking. "Hi, I'm so happy to be here?" The listener wonders if we're undecided about how we feel. The solution: Keep the tone even from beginning to end. Take a breath before speaking. This will help the voice stay sharp and reduce any nervousness. Start and end sentences with the same emphasis. Statements will have a better impact. If you're concerned that your remarks still sound like a question, record yourself speaking. Ask family and friends how you're coming across in conversation. Listen to the feedback with an open mind, and you'll find your speech improves.  
  2. The problem: Running out of breath, before our comment ends, leaves the listener struggling to hear our complete thought. The solution: Pause between words and take a breath. Don't worry that someone will jump in before finishing a statement. It's more important that the message is clear. If someone does break into your flow, take a beat and let the person know you want to complete your thought. Try not to give that person a nasty look while you do it. (I'm still working on that myself.)
  3. The problem: Speaking too slow or too fast. The solution: Find the pacing. When being careful with words, we tend to take it slow, and we come across as hesitant. Take a moment and form the ideas in your mind. We all worry that we won't get a chance to voice our thoughts that we rush in before being prepared. The same happens when we talk too fast. We sound like one long run-on sentence. When we present our message to an audience, organization, and practice are required. When talking to our friends, relax and enjoy the conversation. Be present and listening. When it's your turn, your voice will come across with an even tempo. 
  4. The problem: Volume control, either speaking too soft or too loud. The solution: If we talk and it's hard for people to hear us, we'll sound anxious and insecure. We'll lose the audience's engagement because people will tune us out completely. Speaking too loud sounds like we're yelling at our listeners. There's a difference between projecting our voice and raising it to an uncomfortable level. The solution: Learn to breathe correctly. When we breathe from our chest and throat, it tightens up our vocal cords. When we speak from our diaphragm, we can easily modulate our tone. Fill your stomach up with air. As you talk, push the air out from your belly. You'll notice your words come out more energetic without any tension from your neck or chest. This will take practice, but you'll enjoy a rounder, more robust, and unshakeable voice with time. 
  5. The problem: Stumbling over or mispronouncing words makes us sound lazy or inarticulate. The solution: Tongue twisters. The beauty of these silly sentences helps exercise our mouths. It's a warm-up that allows our words to come across clearly. It gives us a chance to practice our pronunciation and articulation of different words and combinations. You'll find that you'll trip less over your tongue, and your meaning will be crystal clear. To get you started, here's a link to 50 tongue twisters. ​50 Tongue Twisters​​​. Try doing a few in the morning. You'll be surprised at how fluid your speech will sound for the rest of the day. 

Everyone notices a person who is fit and trim. We all want to know what that person has done to be in great shape. We also notice a person who speaks with a sense of pride and self-assurance. We all want to know where that confidence comes from. Diet and exercise keep our bodies healthy. Practicing our breathing, listening, and being prepared keeps our conversations engaging. 

My mother's smile was always an open invitation to anyone who needed encouragement. Her words of support were a lifeline to everyone who heard them. Her diligence has always been my inspiration. Live well, speak with passion, and love your life. 

Jun 30

Collective Unconsciousness

By Celeste DeCamps | General

I know we're all feeling isolated and divided these days, but I believe we are more connected than we realize. Our collective unconsciousness is alive and more reliable than ever. We may be far from our caveman days, but the knowledge we share keeps us together. I believe in the age of technology; we are finding out, faster than ever before, how closely tied we are to each other.

In the restaurant business, you never know when unexpected customers seem to come out of the blue on what's usually a slow Tuesday night. I've had this happen and can't explain why the sudden appearance of so many people. Other restaurant owners have described the same scene and said short of consulting tea leaves that it's impossible to figure out.

What happens to our collective unconsciousness that makes everyone go out one night and not another? How did everyone decide that in a pandemic, toilet paper was the necessity? Why did everyone decide to make banana bread in quarantine? If I could crack this code, I'd be a billionaire.

Over the years, I've read accounts of two or more people who would come up with the same idea or storyline, yet they all lived on different sides of the world. They've never met and had completely different lifestyles. Each one believing that their thoughts were original and unique. I'm sure it's happened to you. You've come up with an excellent idea for a new toy that will be a hit with kids. Before you can get your patent, somebody has already put it on the market.

There are several studies of twins who were separated at birth and grew up to have the same interests and careers. They'll have the same taste in dress, haircuts, and even spouses. It's as if they were never apart.
It's easy to say that those are simply coincidences, but I believe there's more to it. I think the energy field that surrounds us also connects us.

Psychologist Carl Jung first developed the term collective unconscious. It explains how our mind is full of ideas and memories that we're not consciously aware of. Jung theorized that we are the sum of our ancestors' thoughts and experiences. We carry innate instincts that have developed over many generations. Without having any experience with animals, young children instinctively know which animals are safe to pet and which aren't. It's this culmination of knowledge that helps us to continue to progress and evolve.

I've been talking to many people who are feeling anxious and depressed. I tell them that they're not alone. We're all nervous about what the future holds. Feeling powerless leads us to fear and uncertainty. The only solace I can offer is that we're in this together. We need to look out for each other and be a sounding board when the anxiety starts to take over. We can help relieve the stress by talking, laughing, and crying with our friends and family. We can meditate together and breathe in hope. We are a collective, and we unconsciously are linked as one.

Now, will someone please help me eat all of this banana bread? 

Jun 22

What Does It Mean to Be Yourself?

By Celeste DeCamps | General

I had to be someone else to understand how to be myself.
I had to be someone else to understand how to be myself.

I was working with a gentleman who wanted feedback on his podcast. While he was explaining his concerns, I noticed that he sounded animated and enthusiastic. He kept my attention. I wasn't sure what he was worried about until I watched his segment. When he turned the camera on, he became stiff and sounded like an announcer. He didn't come across personable. It didn't match the man I had been talking to. When I spoke to him about his change in demeanor, he admitted that he had worked in radio for many years. He said he didn't know how to come across as himself when he's "on." It's something that he's struggled with. He's not sure if he can be himself.

I can relate. It was always more comfortable for me to be somebody else. When I was a disc jockey on the radio, I had two different personalities. One was the rock n' roll goddess of heavy metal, and the other was the sexy, soft queen of jazz. I impersonated film icon Mae West for a few events. It was a blast being this woman. It didn't matter what I said, as long as I spoke and acted like her, people loved me. I felt confident and secure. The only problem was, I wasn't Mae West. It was tough, but I knew I had to learn how to be myself.

A funny thing happened when I was researching Mae West. I found that it took her many years to become the star Mae West. She was always reinventing herself. She had her share of failures, but she was fearless. She learned from her setbacks and became stronger for it.

I started to realize that being yourself was how we perceived the world, and that perception would grow and change as we got older. The more experiences we have and the more we challenge ourselves is what makes us who we are. I had to trust that I had something to offer to others. I had to stop pretending and start believing that I was someone who had interesting things to say. The more I began to share my opinions and thoughts, the easier it became for me to speak my truth.

The advice to be yourself is easy to say, but one of the hardest things to do. Learning to be comfortable and feel self-assured is a journey. I had to be someone else to understand how to be myself.

When we're on stage or meeting people for the first time, we want to make a great impression. We want to be ourselves. People can tell if we're trying to be something we're not. My suggestion is preparation. Practice what you want to say ahead of time. Remember to relax and breathe. Don't be afraid of pausing or taking a moment to gather your thoughts. Learn to be in the moment and listen carefully, whether you're taking a question from the audience or the person you're meeting.

Record yourself. Listen and watch how you're coming across. Show it to family and friends and ask for their constructive criticisms. Living in a world of technology gives us unique opportunities, and we must be our authentic selves. We develop trust in our business and personal relationships when people feel comfortable with us.

The advice I gave the gentleman, before his next podcast, was to practice his presentation as if he were in a room with his friends. I told him to pick one friend who would relate to his particular topic. Think about how the person would react, what questions they may have, and how you would keep them engaged. Putting ourselves in another person's place gets us out of our heads. We become more concerned about their feelings and thoughts. The information we want to give is for their benefit. It takes the pressure off and helps us to relax. We become more comfortable in our skin and can be ourselves. The next broadcast he did, he was conversational, engaging, and more important, he was himself. 

Jun 16

What To Do When You Draw A Blank

By Celeste DeCamps | General

Quote:
Quote: "I don't consider myself an artist, but when it comes to drawing blanks, I'm the best."

I'm standing in front of my high school class. The assignment is simple. Get up and tell everyone what you did over the summer. That year I was in a drum and bugle corps. We preformed and competed in different states. For the first time, I had an exciting story to tell. I was sure I knew exactly what I was going to say. The first couple of sentences came out strong. I was confident I was going to get through this anxiety-producing, exercise. Instead, my mind became empty. I hadn't a clue as to what I wanted to say next. It's as if all the words just floated away. I felt the heat rise in my face, and my palms began to sweat. The teacher was trying to encourage me to continue, but when my tears created a small puddle at my feet, he let me sit down.

I was so embarrassed. I was sure that public speaking was never going to be easy for me. It turns out, all I needed was a sense of commitment and a bit of masochism. In time, I was able to get over my fear of talking in front of a group of people. I learned how to be prepared and find the words before they disappeared.

Working with people to develop their communication skills, I quickly learned that I was not the only one who experienced their brain switching off. It's a fear that keeps us from delivering a presentation or sales pitch. I've found ways to minimize the chance of drawing a blank. When the rare time it does happen, and I'm at a loss, I know how to keep moving on.

Being prepared is an essential tool. Know your message inside and out. When I put my research together, I will go over it several times. I memorize vital points. Visualization helps with this because I turn my main ideas into pictures. For example, if I want to explain breathing techniques, I will envision my belly filling up like a balloon. It reminds me to describe the diaphragm. When I'm recounting an event, I "see" the place and the people involved. It helps me stay on track. Don't worry that you don't say every word that you practiced. It's more important that you developed a beginning, a middle, and an end. Your ideas are organized and easy to follow. Practice in front of your friends and family and listen to their feedback and advice.

Taking slow, measured breaths before my speech helps me to relax. Feeling anxious or nervous leaves us open to losing our place during our talk. Focused breathing puts us in the here and now. It's that kind of mindfulness that will keep us in the moment. We won't be distracted. Instead, we'll feel grounded.

Pause. Yes, take a beat. Dynamics help keep an audience engaged. When we stop for a second or two, we allow the audience to take in our words. It also gives us a chance to find our place if we have a momentary lapse. If you can't find the exact wording in your script, don't worry. Trust that you know your material. If it comes out a little different than what you practiced, it's okay. The only person who will know is you. Your guests will think you gave them a short time to digest your fantastic content. You'll appear confident and in command of your speech.

Let go of the idea of being perfect. It's too much pressure. Work on the presentation, and it'll flow. If you enjoy what you're talking about, your passion and enthusiasm will transfer to your listeners. Take your time, maintain eye contact, and smile. Unless, of course, you're talking about something sad, like humiliating yourself in front of your classmates. Okay, it's a little funny now. 

Jun 09

What’s Wrong (and Right) about Filler Words?

By Celeste DeCamps | General

I had to attend meetings twice a month when I worked in sales. Our suppliers would present their new products to educate us and hope to garner excitement. For the most part, they were dull and uninteresting. It was apparent that they spent very little time preparing their talk. To keep awake, I would make a checkmark every time they used a particular filler word. I would end up with about twenty or thirty "Ahs" and "Ums," and that would be only the first presenter. I would also make a list of "buzz" words that always showed up at these events. The winners were; "sexy," "fun," "take it to the next level," and our favorite, "think outside the box." It was a missed opportunity to inspire a group of salespeople to want to represent their product.

"So," "Like," "Well," "You Know," "Right?" are just a few examples of filler words. Most of us are guilty of using these place holders while we try to remember what we want to say next. We will use an "ah" or an "um" to let others know we have not finished our thought. Most of the time, these words go unnoticed. When it's excessive, it makes a person come across as unprepared and nervous. It will also make the audience feel anxious.

Ending our sentences with a "you know?" or "right?" as we're speaking is a way to make sure the other person is listening to us. We want to see a nod of their head in agreement. The problem with using these filler words too much is we'll come across as insecure. It will seem as if we need constant validation of our ideas. If we're making eye contact with the person we're speaking to, we should be able to tell that they are paying attention and understanding our point of view.

So, let me tell you about the time I had to take a knife away from a biker.

Why do we begin our stories with the word, "so?" I believe it's our way to enter into the conversation. It's a form of raising our hand and taking our turn to speak. If every sentence starts with "so." It becomes a crutch and weakens the impact of our message.

To be a more effective communicator, we must be aware of our use of these speed bumps. Here are three tips to help you smooth out any hint of hesitation when you speak.

  1. Be prepared. When you're making a presentation or introducing yourself to another person or group, practice what you'll say. Don't worry about being perfect. If a filler word finds its way into your speech, it's okay. The more groundwork you do, the less chance you will be "umming" and "ahhing" throughout your talk. 
  2. Breathe. Don't be afraid to pause and take a breath while your mind is looking for your next idea. Taking your time to gather your thoughts is more effective than filling the void with needless words. When you're the only person on stage, trust that no one plans to interrupt you. If you're having a conversation with another person or group and someone takes advantage of your break, relax. Let the person speak and then continue with, "as I was saying" or "thank you, for your input." Most people are anxious to join in and contribute, not meaning to be rude. 
  3. Practice mindfulness. You may be surprised by how many filler words you use when you slow down and pay attention to your own words. Better yet, ask your friends and family to listen for these little ticks in your speech. Recording yourself as you speak will give you a clear understanding of your speech patterns.

In our day-to-day interactions, we may not be as concerned with our "ahs" and "ums." Practicing to reduce our use of them will result in being a more fluid and confident speaker. Our passion and enthusiasm to talk about our ideas, products, or services will be more successful by eliminating unnecessary words or phrases. Our audience will appreciate a clear and concise presentation that keeps them interested. So, like, do you know what I mean?