Saturday, March 20, 2010

Speaking Tic

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Toastmasters, an International non-profit organization designed to help individuals improve their speaking skills, teaches speakers to avoid using verbal fillers—fillers like ah, uh, you know.

Because I have been a member of Toastmasters for a very long time, I am hyper sensitive when a person relies heavily on verbal fillers when speaking.

I’m constantly amazed by the high profile TV/radio personalities who do this and aren’t told by company executives to fix it.

There’s a popular filler word used by tweens and teens, particularly girls. I hear it repeatedly when Addy and friends are loaded in my car.

Can you guess what the word is?

A couple of weeks ago, I spent three straights days working with teenage girls at Career Technology Centers in Oklahoma. I heard this word so much that I found myself overusing it.

Not good.

While waiting for a presentation to begin on one day, three girls arrived early. I told them to feel free to chat while we waited for the others to join us. Big mistake. For fifteen minutes, I had to listen to the constant repetition of the offending word.

“LIKE he told me what he said and then LIKE I said well okay and then LIKE I left. Later, LIKE I decided to go back and find him. But LIKE he was gone. And LIKE I didn’t know what to do.”

Yes, the “filler” word for this generation of children is still LIKE. The 1980’s movie Valley Girl was the world’s first introduction to the word and nothing seems to be stopping its use—not teachers, not parents.

While speaking to the students, I pointed this out. I asked them to help each other stop this bad habit. Hoping to help them improve, I would point out every use of the word throughout our time together.

My daughter and I work on this at home. In her defense it’s rare that I hear a slip unless she is hanging out with friends.

William L. Bainbridge , Professor at the University of Dayton, wrote an article about the overuse of ‘like’ for the Columbus Dispatch. He described how he and colleagues were disturbed by a teen’s presentation.

She was the president of her senior class and had exceptional scholastic qualifications—excellent grades and high national test scores. He explains: “The session was videotaped. We reviewed the tape and, to no surprise, found sixty-four instances by actual count of this bright person cluttering her sentence with the word LIKE in less than four minutes: "You know LIKE I feel LIKE students LIKE have trouble LIKE selecting LIKE career awareness LIKE experiences."

Bainbridge says popular TV personality Larry King calls this type of overuse of a word a “speaking tic,” which means it’s something a person can’t seem to stop doing no matter how hard she tries.

But there is good news. If your tween, teen or even you have this “diagnosis,” it is fixable. Ask others to help you become aware every time you say the word. Record your daughter and friends (with their permission, of course) and then play it back. You can call them out every time, too.

A favorite Toastmaster’s trick is ringing a counter bell every time you hear the offending word.

The counter bell tactic works—just ask any Toastmaster who has experienced it. I rarely, if ever, get flagged in meetings for using word fillers. When I do find myself picking up a verbal word filler habit, I immediately get to work solving the problem. Do your children a favor and help them do the same thing.

Allyn Evans
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