How to Cure the Verbal Virus: A Five Step Treatment Plan
By Susan Berkley
Warning! You may be infected with a virus that could be lethal to your sales,
your public relations and even your social life. I call it a "Verbal Virus."
Verbal viruses are meaningless fillers that speckle our speech, distract from
our message, drain our impact and annoy listeners. I call them verbal viruses
because they seem to be contagious and we pick them up without being aware of
The most common verbal viruses are: "uhh" "um" "like" "you know" "well"
"okay" and "sort of." They also include annoying mouth sounds and lip smacks.
Verbal viruses are jarring to the ear and inconsistent with a professional
image. They can make you sound unsure, unprepared and poorly educated. The good
news about verbal viruses is that they are easily cured. Here's my 5-step plan
for prevention, treatment and cure.
1. Diagnose the Problem: Since verbal viruses are unconscious, the
only way you'll hear them is on tape. Record a few of your phone calls on a
typical business day to quickly determine if you are suffering from a verbal
2. Pause: Whenever you catch yourself saying a non-word, just stop
talking. Say nothing. This gap of silence will feel scary at first, but if the
pause is no longer than 5 seconds, the listener will scarcely notice. A pause
will help you gather your thoughts while giving the listener time to reflect on
what you have just said.
3. Record the Voicemail Messages You Leave for Others: Listen to them
at the end of the day and note whether or not unwanted fillers have crept into
4. Enlist the Help of a Friend or Spouse: Explain what you are trying
to do and invent a code word he or she can use every time you use a filler word.
The constant reminder will help you break the habit fast.
5. Hold Your Breath: When you feel you are about to use a non-word,
take a breath, hold it for a moment and then begin to speak. The focus on your
breathing will occupy your mind, keep you calm and centered and make the silence
between the words seem much less scary.
Here's to healthy speaking.
From "The Voice Coach" ezine by Susan Berkley. Copyright
2002, reprinted with permission. For a free subscription visit
Berkley is a professional speaker and international communications expert. She
is a top voiceover artist and author of "Speak to Influence: How to Unlock the
Hidden Power of Your Voice, " available at bookstores or from The Great Voice
Company at 800-333-8108.