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Bonus Focus - Ummm, It’s Time to Declutter Your Communication

By Amy Glass

Do you clutter your speech with “ahs,” “ums” or “you knows”? Many of us do.

Other forms of cluttered speech include repeating information or jumping back-and-forth between different points. Having some of this is OK, but too much cluttering and your audience gets confused, distracted and annoyed.

Recently, I was coaching Jo, a very intelligent, high-energy people manager. She had interviewed for several roles internally, and had not been selected for any of them. The feedback Jo received: She struggled to share clear examples and didn’t make her points as strongly as other candidates. Jo may have been well-qualified for the roles, but her communication skills were holding her back.

As we practiced verbalizing her answers, it became clear that Jo was a “clutterer.” I started with a typical interview question: “What is your approach to building trust with new teams?” Jo’s answer was drowned out by fillers, and difficult to follow – she would stop, revise, repeat and ramble.

So, how can we declutter our communication? Awareness and practice!

Most people have heard that they need to slow down when speaking. I say this often to my children, and my mother has said it to me. It may seem like an easy solution to a complex problem; however, it can be very challenging to regulate your speaking rate on a moment-by-moment basis for long stretches of time. It takes practice to develop new habits.

Here are a few exercises to get you started...

Choose a section of a book, magazine article or long email, and record yourself as you read it aloud for about two minutes.

Note: Most smart phones have a voice memo app which is perfect for practice. After each round of practice, listen to the recording for instant feedback.

• Round 1: Practice with a very slow rate where you emphasize the consonants for two minutes. Focus on pausing between sentences.
• Round 2: Read the same passage for two minutes in a more natural, but still slow rate. Focus on pausing in an intentional way (three seconds at the end of the sentence, one to two seconds at a comma or semi-colon.)
• Round 3: Read the same passage for two minutes, and practice varying the rate to make it more conversational. Practice natural pauses.

If you do this two to three times per week, you will start to notice a difference in how you communicate after about two weeks.

When you’re ready for more advanced practice, here are two more exercises to focus on live interactions.

• Record a social or business phone call
for at least two to five minutes to listen to your speech patterns during unplanned communication.

• Record yourself practicing for an upcoming presentation or meeting. Pay attention to placing emphasis on important words or phrases, and pausing for clarity. Try to avoid disorganized language and excessive interjections or revisions (having a few is natural).

Remember to listen to each recording right away for instant feedback. In particular, ask yourself:

1. How does my voice sound?
2. Is my message clear?
3. Am I cluttering too much, and, if so, when is that happening?
4. What changes can I make to increase my vocal impact?

As you continue to practice and increase your awareness, you will de-clutter your speech and become a more effective communicator.

Amy Glass is executive vice president at BRODY Professional Development and the co-author of the book Leadership Presence: The Influential Intangible. Email Amy at

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