Disfluency: Noun. Lack of skillfulness in speaking. Irregular utterance that is not consistent with grammatical construction of an otherwise fluent speech.

It’s Oscar Week at SpeakEasy! Both Charlotte and I are big fans of the event despite our agreement (with each other and the world, it seems) that this year’s event was, in a word, “eh.” I could spend hours parsing the various acceptance speeches and rating them on a scale from word salad to stellar delivery, but we all have a life. So I will just focus on one: Natalie Portman’s acceptance speech for Best Actress.

In the three minutes that Natalie spoke, she had 35 “ums.” That’s one word filler – the junk food of public speaking – every five seconds. Those empty syllables are distracting, disruptive, and, worst of all, can diminish the speaker’s credibility.

But Natalie had something else going for her that night: authenticity. She was so genuinely moved, and humbled, and thankful that she was able to overcome the negative effects of all those filler words. As we say to our clients, authenticity first, delivery second. If the audience resonates with you, feels that you are being genuine and transparent, they will forgive any number of bad habits – verbal and non-verbal.

So good for you Natalie. Thanks for giving us a great example of how utterly disarming a speaker can be when they make a genuine connection. Now imagine the impact you could have without the ums!

– Barbara Roche