Public Speaking: "Right?" is the New "Umm"

About two months ago I was sitting in a seminar listening to a guest speaker. She had good, solid information to share, but I began to notice something odd about how she was presenting her insight. I became totally distracted and found myself tuning out her knowledge and just listening for this one public-speaking faux pas that kept coming at me over and over again.

What was it that threw me off from finding value in her words? She ended almost every sentence with, “right?”

I lost count of how many times she asked this rhetorical question, but after that day my ear became hypersensitive every time I heard someone inject the question at the end of a sentence. And I heard it everywhere, from broadcasters to colleagues to politicians, and, yes, even myself once in a while. It was the elephant in the room for me.

Yes, I became a little obsessed with the topic, but what I observed is that “right?” has become the new “umm.” It’s the de facto fallback to fill space or make ourselves comfortable when speaking.

Speakers who use this crutch have fallen into a rhythm of interrupting their thoughts with a question they really don’t want anyone to answer. If they did want their audience to answer, they would pause after they said “right?” and open the floor for discussion. But they don’t. They keep going, so what they are doing is validating their statements to themselves.
For the listener, “right?” is a code word to think about answering the question rather than gaining the knowledge that is being imparted. The speaker’s mission is not being accomplished, and that’s where public speaking training comes in.

If you’ve fallen into the “right?” trap, here’s what to do about it: at CMD, we media train executives at all levels, from CEOs to product marketing managers. We help them organize their thoughts and present key information in public settings so they can share their knowledge. Part of the training is understanding their situation, be it a media interview or guest-speaker opportunity.

One of the most important tips that we share about public speaking is:

Prove your points – Support each point with facts and statistics. Sweeping, unsupported generalizations have a good chance of being edited out.

If you prove your point with your words and facts, you will not need to ask the audience if you’re “right?” They’ll know it by listening and agreeing with you in their head. As a speaker, it’s your role to keep the audience engaged, and there’s nothing like solid facts to make you comfortable. When you are comfortable, you can avoid public speaking filler like “right?” and “umm.” That’s what the audience wants you to do.

If that’s not enough, ask someone to let you know every time you use “right?” in conversation or a presentation. Pretty soon you will notice yourself doing it and consciously begin to avoid saying it. Or, you’ll become obsessed with it after reading this post and vow never to do it again.


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