Being a millennial entrepreneur has come with both rewards and challenges. With many of my mentors and business friends being at least 10 years my senior, there has always been a small part of me that felt I needed to prove myself that much more. As a result, running a business has turned out to be one of the best forms of personal development and has allowed me to push through boundaries that I didn't think were possible.
Having recently launched a podcast interviewing other female entrepreneurs, I remember listening to my first few episodes and could not believe how 'young' I sounded. I studied the tracks endlessly, trying to put my finger on what it was.
Then, I heard it.
"Like...... um... you know....... like..."
It was not my lack of vocabulary but the extensive use of those commonly said words.
My thought process went from one extreme to the other. At first, I concluded that elocution lessons were clearly the only option to sounding professional (yes, I realize how ridiculous that sounds). Then, I decided that I needed to stay 'true' to myself and continue to speak the way I normally do. I figured if it clicked with people great, if not, then they simply were not my target audience (this, I must add, was a very stubborn way of thinking).
I stuck with the latter until one night I heard something crucial while editing an interview. Like and um were not necessarily used as filler words but more so when expressing an opinion in conversation. Contrary to my original thoughts, it really seemed to be a subtle reflection of self-doubt or uncertainty.
Tara Mohr>, author of Playing Big, explains that it's very common for women to undermine themselves with words. Mohr discovered that women also introduce words such as just, actually and even apologizing before expressing a contrary opinion (a trait men seldom have).
While this does not mean you should now have vehement conversations with everyone you meet, I'm learning that it is important to value your voice and opinions and make no apologies or excuses for them.
It's a journey that will push you outside of your comfort zone but I hope any of you resonating with this will take it with me.
Here are a few things that can help:
1. Speak slower.
This is a great thing to practice when you are first starting. When we rush our speech as a result of being nervous (or not wanting to 'take up too much time'), the use of like and um can slip in so much easier. Give yourself the time to think of what you want to say and fully commit to it. Being present in a conversation is one of the most helpful things you can do for both breaking the habit and the other party listening.
2. Value your thoughts and opinions.
Expressing a new thought or opinion can feel daunting. Part of the reason that I felt uncomfortable and started slipping in likes and ums was the direct result of one feeling: vulnerability. If I'm honest, subconsciously, I wanted to ensure that I would say something that would sound right or align with the other person listening. However, as soon as you embrace being vulnerable and let go of what you want the other party to think of you, your words will flow so much easier.
Brené Brown, author of Rising Strong, explains this concept so perfectly: "Vulnerability is not winning or losing; it's having the courage to show up and be seen when we have no control over the outcome. Vulnerability is not weakness; it's our greatest measure of courage."
3. Find a role model.
You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with. To optimize this, find ways to surround yourself with well-spoken role models and intentionally listen to how they express themselves. If it's difficult to find people like this in your area, start listening to speakers on podcasts. I have found the likes of Kathy Caprino and Tim Ferris incredibly helpful and inspiring.
4. Avoid stopping yourself.
Once you become more aware of when you use like (or any other filler words), it can be easy to start cutting yourself off and getting frustrated. When you do find yourself saying it, finish the sentence then give yourself a moment to reflect on what you really want to say. The last thing you want to do is feel like you are speaking robotically simply to communicate in a more 'professional' manner. It's going to slip in now and again (which is ok!) and the goal should be to recognize where it shows up and why.
Changing a strong habit is never going to be an easy task but self-awareness is always the first step. No matter what stage you are at, allow yourself to be confident and value the words you have to say.
Now over to you! If this resonated with you or you know a friend that it could help, don't forget to share this article!