We all have them; ‘you know’ those pesky words that can come out when we deliver our training sessions. ‘OK’ so what are they, why do they appear, what effect can they have and importantly what can we do about them?

You’ve probably noticed already that I’ve used a couple of the more common words that can become ‘verbal ticks’ in the title and the first paragraph, but if you haven’t, they are the “You know” and the “OK”.  So, what are these words?  The words or sounds we use such as ‘OK’, Erm’, ‘You know’, ‘Um’, ‘Erm’ are ‘pause words’ for our brain to catch up with what we are thinking about and what we need to say.  They will always be there but will become more common when we are nervous and under strain which for a lot of us will be when delivering training!  They do act as convenient pauses for our brain to play catch up when we need it but can become a bit of a hindrance to us when we find we repeat them a lot and also a huge distraction to our audience; this is when they’ve changed from a pause word to a verbal tick!  A great example of this that I can share with you is when I was helping to mentor a trainer in an organisation, they used the word ‘OK’ to the point once in a lesson I counted 50 within 10 minutes of a one-hour session. When I asked the audience what they had learnt at the end, they all told me, “Nothing other than the trainer says OK a lot”; not ideal when you need learning to take place!  So what then can we do about them?

As mentioned above, these words do tend to appear more when we’re nervous and when we’re fully unprepared, our brains don’t know what to say and will need more time to think about what’s coming next.  One way to avoid pause words becoming verbal ticks is to be fully prepared and rehearsed for your session; if you’ve planned properly, you’ll know and see what’s coming next, so you’ll have more confidence, and your brain won’t need that pause.  I always know when people are trying to ‘wing it’ in training because often, you’ll hear so many pause words becoming verbal ticks; you’ll be hard-pressed not to hear them once you’ve tuned into them!

When I teach on the Train the Trainer courses, we do practical exercises that take people into their stretch zone where they are nervous, and they’ll start to notice their own pause words and those of others that can start to become a verbal tick. It’s always fascinating to hear when people start tuning into them how much everyone starts to listen to them including those that are using them; this is a good thing though as if we know what our pause words are, we can try and minimise them!

Next time you are in a training session or even delivering one, see if you can hear those pause words and then once you have, see if you can tune out of hearing them (this will be hard).  If delivering, try to minimise them; they’ll probably never completely go away, but if you can stop them from being distracting verbal ticks then this is a huge bonus for learning.

Scott Fraser is a Master Trainer at Target Training and delivers our PTT Train the Trainer courses and our Advanced PTT Train the Trainer courses.  You can read more about him here.