No matter the audience, presenting yourself as a polished professional is essential for long-term credibility and career success.

Interactions littered with "likes" and "ums" accomplish precisely the opposite.

The same verbal tics that are inconsequential in everyday conversation take on new significance in a professional setting.

Here are a few of the most debilitating speaking habits to be on the lookout for.

1. "Um" or "uh"

When you're giving a presentation or having a casual conversation, filler words like "um," "uh," and "like," easily overpower the substance of your message.

This becomes so common, most people don't even notice they're doing it.

The first step to eliminating this tic is to become conscious of your habit.

I know this sounds cringeworthy, but make a recording of yourself in a meeting or on a conference call, paying careful attention to your speech patterns when you play it back.

Then, acknowledge when these tics most often arise. "Ums" and "uhs" signal to your audience that you need to gather your thoughts, and usually pop up while switching topics.

As an alternative, pre-plan your transitions. Instead of trailing with an "um," deploy an assertive statement like, "Another important consideration is..." or "Let's move on to..."

Practice these handy transitions so they become as reflexive as an "um."

When in doubt, make eye contact with the person to whom you are speaking.

Eye contact forces you to be present and aware of the moment, making it much more difficult to resort to absentminded speech patterns.

2. Hedges

In interpersonal conversation, soft word choices like "sort of" and "kind of" are generally harmless.

In a speech or presentation, however, these phrases--called "hedges"--have the effect of weakening your position, reducing authority, and making you appear unsure of your message.

In turn, these low-confidence phrases undermine your credibility as a speaker and serve to distract your audience.

The best way to fix your hedging habit? Substitute those soft phrases with more assertive ones.

Replace "I think" with "I believe" and "I know." Turn a "kind of" into a strong and simple "is." Your point will come across more clearly and effectively as a result.

3. Up-talking

Since up-talking is a tonal habit, not a verbal tic or a matter of word choice, it might be harder to quash.

This phenomenon occurs when a person's voice rises in pitch towards the end of their sentences.

As a result, even the most declarative statements can come off as questions, signifying uncertainty and undermining the speaker's assertions.

The primary cause of up-talking is improper breathing. Up-talkers are likely to take a quick inhalation close to the end of their sentences, which results in a rise in pitch.

To address this habit, work on "landing" your sentences.

Instead of inhaling at the end of your sentences, exhale as you finish your thought. Then, inhale when you start a new sentence.

Practice this breathing habit by reading out loud with your hand on your belly.

If you land on your phrase correctly, your stomach will extend from the exhalation at the sentence's end.

4. "Just"

"Just" isn't just a word.

Former Google executive Ellen Petry Leanse wrote a viral LinkedIn piece that revealed how damaging "just" can be when deployed as a so-called "permission" word.

This occurred most frequently in emails and interactions with her female colleagues, with phrases like, "I'm just following up on," and "I just wanted to check in on."

Leanse realized this was a message of subordination and deference, and noticed that "striking it from a phrase almost always clarified and strengthened the message."

Like hedges, this word is often deployed as an attempt to seem more polite. But it can seriously downplay the importance of what you're saying.

At the end of the day, being a good speaker is all about projecting an air of confidence and credibility. There's no reason to let a few bad habits or nervous tics stand in the way of your success.

Published on: Mar 30, 2017
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