Eliminate ‘Um’ from Your Speech with a New App

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Does the idea of asking for a raise or meeting your significant other's parents fill you with tongue-tying fear? We can't make you braver, but we can help you fake it: Developers have created an app called Orai (as in “orate”) that’ll train you to speak more clearly, confidently, and with fewer filler words.

Even in our rapidly digitizing world, there’s still a lot riding on the way we present ourselves in person. Job interviews, first dates, presentations at work, and the success of loan applications can hinge on strong communication skills. It’s a lot of pressure; no wonder more than 25 percent of Americans report being afraid of public speaking.

There’s no shortage of bad advice for people trying to overcome this anxiety (“Just picture the audience naked!”). But useful information is harder to come by, as engineers Danish Dhamani and Paritosh Gupta learned when they set out to become better speakers themselves.

“Paritosh grew up in India,” Dhamani told Fast Company. “I was born in Pakistan, but my family moved to Tanzania when I was very young, so I was raised in Africa. When we came to the U.S., it was hard—from job interviews to networking events—talking in front of groups of people.”

The two started by enrolling in the speakers club Toastmasters International, but found the cost and time commitment required to be impractical for many people.

“There had to be a better way,” Gupta said. So he and Dhamani rounded up a seminar’s worth of tips, techniques, and exercises, and built them into an easy-to-use app.

The app works with the iPhone’s built-in–microphone (there’s no Android version yet, but you can sign up on the Orai website to find out when it’s available) to assess and workshop a user’s speaking patterns and behaviors. Exercises like tongue twisters; lightning-fast, elevator-pitch-style presentations; and the “Um Challenge” offer coaching for specific trouble spots. Users can also upload their own text to practice speeches, presentations, and difficult conversations ahead of time.

“Public speaking is like going to the gym,” Dhamani says. "You can’t go once and get bigger biceps—you have to train on a consistent basis,” Dhamani says.

We’re not saying you have to cut “um” and “like” from your vocabulary; in fact, you may not want to. As linguist (and Mental Floss senior editor) Arika Okrent noted in a previous Mental Floss article, every language has its own version of um, which suggests it serves some linguistic purpose.

“The use of um does not correlate with anxiousness or any particular personality traits,” Okrent says. “Rather, um is used to signal an upcoming pause—usually uh for a short pause and um for a longer pause. The pause may be needed in order to find the right word, remember something temporarily forgotten, or repair a mistake. Um holds the floor for us while we do our mental work. It buys some time for thinking.”

So, uh, even if your conversations are sprinkled with filler words, don’t, like, beat yourself up about it.

[h/t Fast Company]