Argggh Counter

As an active member of my Toastmasters club who has achieved the CC [Competent Communicator] standard, I have become increasingly aware of the poor standards of public speaking by well-known figures. In particular, I have become increasingly aware of the “Umms”, “Errms”, “Ahs” and other filler words / sounds that seem to proliferate these days. To some extent, this is understandable for footballers but surely not for politicians and those who earn their living by speaking.

I was appalled by last week’s BBC Question time programme [listen again at if you can bear it] where the invited panel were all particularly poor.

One, Baroness Olly Grender, was so bad that I began an impromptu “Ah Counter” session. In her response to one question, I counted 19 examples of “Umms”, “Errms”, “Ahs” ect. in a couple of minutes. It detracted from what she was saying and undermined her credibility to the extent that I stopped listening to what she was saying and concentrated on the “Ahhs”.

All three panellists: Jeremy Hunt,  Sadiq Khan and Olly Grender would have benefitted from attending a Toastmasters meeting to learn how to avoid this problem. [Fortunately, Chairman David Dimbleby and most of the speakers from the audience were significantly better than the panel!]

I learned this lesson on my first meeting at Didsbury Speakers as a visitor. The feedback and suggestions from the “Ah Counter” were well focused, helpful and positive. It was one of the reasons I decided to join the club.

I also felt that participating in a few Table Topics sessions would have helped the panel members respond to the questions more professionally.

Toastmasters provides an excellent grounding in public speaking but it does tend to make you more aware of the performance of others and perhaps makes you less tolerant of those in public life who have not taken the effort to acquire the skills they need for their jobs!

Category:- Speaking Tips

On Mon 23rd Dec 2013 by Jim Yates

Jim Yates

Jim is an ex-President of Didsbury Speakers. With a professional background in management, he is also a tutor for The Open University.