My first public speaking experience was in elementary school, either 2nd or 3rd grade. Each of us had to deliver a short speech in front of the rest of the class, then our classmates would ask us questions, and finally we would be able to sit back down and try to look as small as possible. I don’t really remember my own presentation (my memory is terrible), but I imagine it went splendidly. I presumably spoke so well and with such passion that I inspired my classmates forever. Some of them probably look back on my speech in 2nd grade with tears in their eyes and a brazen smile upon their face. In all honesty, it was probably just not worth remembering.
I’ve always been as naturally smart as a 9th grader. This was most convenient in the earlier years, (and a liability later on.) I would go back and forth with a blonde girl in elementary school as to who was the smartest on any particular assignment. While I was a paragon of virtue and humility (of course), she was a bit of a jerk. When one of our classmates finished their speech, other people got to ask clarifying questions. The blonde girl asked in a sneering tone:
“Do you know that you said ‘Um’ 31 times during your speech?”
Even at the time, I remember I was torn between a desire to laugh uproariously at this snide remark at my unfortunate classmate’s expense and relief that I wasn’t in their position. The rest of the class was perfectly willing to laugh.
I hope I never forget that situation because it taught me a few key things about public speaking and feedback. First, there are few utterances that make you seem less competent than any of the space-fillers like “Um, Uh, or Er.” Second, follow Wheaton’s Law under all circumstances and Don’t Be a Dick. That smart girl had no cause to shame her classmate like that, being smarter is not a license to put others down. Finally, it is possible that the blonde girl (I really don’t remember her name) only said what she did out of a genuine desire to help the speaker perform better in their future endeavors. If that was the case, it is important to give feedback and suggestions while communicating that you’re only trying to help.
At this point, I’ve had much more experience with public speaking, and I’m still not great at it. But at the very least, I try not to say “Um” any more than 30 times.