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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 it.

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 virus infection.

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 your messages.

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  Susan 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.

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