Toastmasters - Collected Wisdom

These are summaries of the collected wisdom of contributors to a Toastamsters newsgroup which operated between 1995 and 2008 and ToastmastersPrime, a Google group which commenced in 2008. This is not an official Toastmasters site, but is an edited collection of posts from the newsgroup and the Google group. These groups provide an unofficial means of communicating for an enthusiastic group of Toastmasters from throughout the world.

Monday, December 18, 2006

I speak therefore I ummm

The question of umm and ahh counter has raged since the early days of this list.

Here are some extracts from er-ah grammarian in March 1995

Clay usually listens for pauses, incorrect grammar, sentence re-starts and of course er/ahs.

Sylvia listens for repeat words or combinations of words. For example, one speaker would use the expression "You know" very often, and it was not known to him until it was brought to his attention. There is also the use of unlimited AND to merge together sentences. Many use this as they are thinking ahead, making ANDS as much a crutch word as ER or AH.

Barbara found a lot of problems with subject-predicate agreement. In other words, the subject of the sentence is singular, and the verb is plural, or the other way around. It's one of those things that bugs me. Often it's a problem with using the word "there" to begin a sentence. Many people start out with a singular noun in mind (which "there" is replacing), but switch mid-sentence into a plural verb, i.e, "There is, according to the latest polls, many things which people do not understand." Better to eliminate "there" completely and say "The latest polls say people do not understand many things."

In Janice's club one person assumes the function of ah counter, and a second person fills the function of grammarian. The grammarian comments on incorrect grammar, but also on good uses of the English language, good uses of vocabulary, good word pictures, etc.

CDayton usually will comment on verbal crutches -- Like, You Know, Stuff that certain people use over and over. Could be many different things, one speaker used to say "Each and Every One of " us, you, etc. at least 3 times per speech. Also the grammarian will sometimes comment on a particularly apt phrase or word use.

Andrew looks for repetitions like "and, and", "but then, but then"

Vince added there's always the "you know" and unnecessary "and"s before/between sentences.
You could also note where people are putting the "er-ah"s.

In October 2001 the thread was Ah Counter equals No Sale

When Moira does a grammarian's report she notes "the good, the bad and the ugly". One thing that was very beautiful, descriptive etc., one thing which was incorrect, and one thing that was not wrong, but either overused or just sloppy.

Sam: the grammarians in both of my clubs include an "ah" count, and do it in such a way that it is seen in the proper perspective...a habit that needs to be tamed, but not one that will destroy your public speaking career!
Neither club uses bells, whistles, fines, or other means to embarrass or pummel people over this matter. We simply mention it as part of the grammarians report. I find more often than not it serves as a humanizing factor, as even skilled speakers use "ahs", and noting their presence shows less experienced speakers that no one is perfect and that all speakers have room for improvement.

To Gene: By having an "Ah Counter" attention can be put on ums and ahs without the speakers having to worry about it. It's difficult to do something when you have to put your attention on exactly how you're doing it as you are doing it. This applies to public speaking, typing, playing piano, anything where there is a large element of automaticity.

Some of those who are umming and ahing may not even realize that they are doing so. Having an Ah Counter is a gentle way of bringing it to someones attention so that he can do something about it.

Jim's club includes the AH counter as part of the grammarian's role. They do give a count of AH's, UM's and "ands" for the entire meeting. They never single out individuals, unless it is a positive report where they can say that they didn't have any AH's or UM's. The "AH count" is a very small part of the grammarians report and no one feels that threatened by it.

Fred: It is difficult, if not impossible, to overcome the problem of 'word whiskers if the problem is not addressed. Unfortunately, the remedial side of the problem is rarely commented upon. People use word whiskers in different ways which call for different solutions. In many clubs that is not recognized.

I do not agree with a system of fines. I prefer the analysis of why the word whiskers occur: is it because one is speaking faster than one thinks? Is it because one did not listen to the question and is waffling? Whatever the reason there are remedies, and these cannot be suggested unless the problem is diagnosed.

The word whisker counter, in many clubs, has become a sort of 'gotcha game' rather than a valid evaluation tool. I used to use word whiskers when I first joined. I don't any longer (or at least, rarely). I credit my improvement to the 'ah counter' and some recommendations from senior Toastmasters of the day as to how to avoid them.

Please do not throw the baby out with the bath-water. Reform the manner in which the problem is addressed, but do not deprive the speaker of this valuable evaluation.

Susan is not in favor of the role of Ah Counter! but thinks that whenever we are assigned to evaluate a speech (not a speaker!), we would be well advised to include comments about EXCESSIVE use of fillers, of any nature, along with what type of situation it was that resulted in the speaker using a filler, and a couple of suggestions on how to avoid similar ones in the future.

Joy reported: Occasionally someone will mention that a particular member (always known to be someone with a good sense of humor and not easily hurt) was the "wizard of ah's" for the evening.

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