Many of us are called on to make speeches. What I struggle with is whether I should read from a prepared text (or memorize); or just extemporize? If I write it all out, and maybe even memorize it, I will sound flawless and impressive. But if I could just wing it, say with an outline, it would take much less time to prepare, and I’d sound more thoughtful and present with the audience. The problem with that approach is that it’s far more likely I’ll make a mistake.
It turns out, according to Dr. Duane Watson’s research at University of Illinois, that an occasional mistake, like an “um” or “uh” is not so bad. Duane’s research showed that some disfluencies can actually help your audience understand what you are trying to say. What he found is that listeners “remembered more of the story’s key points when there were ‘ums’ and ‘uhs’ present than when the story was produced without any fillers.” In addition, the study looked at other kinds of mistakes, like coughing. Swapping in a cough at the exact time/duration of an “um” didn’t work so well. It’s not just a question of having a little gap or pause in speech. A speaker’s small disfluency could be a cue for listeners to work a little harder to understand, and a signal that the speaker has thought more about the point at hand.
So the next time you have to give a speech, take heart, you don’t have to deliver perfectly, and your small imperfections in speech could actually help you and your audience. Kind of a relief, huh?