You Talk Pretty Today: Drop Crutch Words To Improve Your Communication Skills

January 19th, 2015 by Presley Brouillette

You know, talking to clients and colleagues can be really, like, intimidating, right? That’s why, like, crutch words are sometimes used by, um, people who are nervous or, like, looking for the right words to use.

Although the above sentence looks odd written out, almost everyone is guilty of using crutch words in everyday speaking. Whether you are caught up in your words when speaking to a client on the phone or nervous about speaking in front of a group, you’ve probably heard yourself using crutch words as you speak. Follow the tips below to break the habit!

What are crutch words?

Everyone has different words that they use in conversation when they need time to gather their thoughts. These words, called crutch words, include placeholders such as um, like, definitely, really, uh, etc. While you wouldn’t normally use these words in writing, people tend to rely on them more heavily when speaking.

Crutch words are most commonly used when people are thinking of the best or most appropriate answer to a question. However, using these words can be distracting to your listener, and it can also make you seem less knowledgeable. Clients may not trust what you’re saying because the crutch words can make it seem as though you’re not confident about what you have to contribute. There are much better alternatives to using like, um, uh, etc. when pulling your thoughts together.

Break the Habit

What is our #1 tip for getting rid of your crutch word habit? Take a breath and pause before speaking! Quickly go over what you want to say in your head, take a breath, and then speak confidently. Your thoughts will come across much more clearly to your audience than they would if you stumble over your words and sound shaky or unsure.

Practice this habit of pausing in your everyday life. Once it becomes a habit at home, you will be able to use it much more naturally at work in situations where you would normally use a crutch word while you gather your thoughts.

Still stuck on a question? If the pause is a bit long, say something like, “That’s a great question…” before continuing. This tactic gives you a few more moments to think of an appropriate answer to the question at hand.

More Useful Tips to Improve Your Spoken Communication

  • Use voice inflections. This conveys what is important in your message, and it also helps keep your listener more engaged. No one wants to hear a monotonous speaker who puts no inflection on the important aspects of what they have to say.
  • Avoid using casual language. Exclamations like “awesome!” or “totally!” can make you sound young and less authoritative to your audience. Although these words may be in your everyday vocabulary, work on limiting your use of them in a professional setting.
  • Avoid using ma’am or sir (to a client or colleague). This is a Southern staple (thanks, Louisiana!), but try to avoid using these words to address clients or coworkers. It can make you seem young and inexperienced, rather than an equal to your peers. Still use it when you go see grandma and grandpa, though!
  • Avoid over-explaining. We tend to try to explain things over and over again, continuing around the same circle while the question at hand has been long answered. Answer the question as best as you can without backtracking and wait for feedback from your listener. If they need more clarification, they will let you know.
  • Know your audience. Are you speaking with the decision-maker of the company, or are you speaking to a secretary? Your communication will differ based on the person you’re communicating with. The CEO of a company will want to hear about the bottom line, while a secretary might want more detailed information to pass along to whomever she’s reporting to.

Effective communication is an important skill to learn, regardless of what industry you work in. We hope these tips help you improve your spoken communication and break the crutch word habit!

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