Friday, February 10, 2012

Toastmasters Friday: To Click or Not To Click

Um...Where was I?


It's a sound that makes the average Toastmaster cringe, and the newest members practically stop in their tracks. Clickers, bells, buzzers, even a triangle - I've seen the Ah Counter use all sorts of methods to let the speaker know they've just uttered an Ah or Um, or in a stricter club, And, So, But, Y'know and others. I would imagine they use hand signals, colored cards, or other visual cues for hearing impaired speakers, but I admit I haven't seen that in action.

For those reading who have yet to go to a Toastmasters meeting, the Ah Counter (or Ah Master, or Wizard of Ahs), is a role designed to help each member stop using 'filler words' in their speaking. The audible sound of a clicker is quite effective in creating a Pavlovian effect, and I've seen speakers literally go from 'A, Buthh-ing' every 5 seconds to effectively pausing between sentences within the two minutes it takes to give a table topic.

As effective as the Ah-Counter is, there is some debate as to how to actually use the role within the meeting. Below are several I've seen, and my thoughts.

The Silent Counter

There are clubs who believe the audible sound of a clicker is too annoying, even disrespectful to the speaker. They may feel it intimidates guests, and interferes too much with the flow of the meeting. I understand this. I've seen the Ah-Master become so intrusive into a meeting it becomes more about mistakes than supportive & corrective clicking. These clubs just tally up the various filler words and give a report at the end of the meeting.

The Selective Counter

Other clubs limit the Ah Counter in various ways. Sometimes they click everyone but the speakers giving speeches. It may be limited to Table Topics. Most clubs don't want guests to be clicked, though I've seen it happen, both on purpose and by mistake.

Deciding which words to click is also a club to club adventure. Most I've been a part of only click the actual Ahs & Ums, while others click the words So, But, And, etc. This can create some issues, since these words can be used correctly, leaving it a judgment call an Ah Master may not want to make, or the Speaker may want to argue.

Selective Counters could also be defined as Ah Masters that only click every now and again, particularly on speakers who Ah & Um incessently, just so the speech doesn't become bogged down in clicks from the audience. I've used this approach at times, usually based on the level the speaker is at at that particular juncture.

The Overkill Counter

I haven't seen many clubs actually sanction this approach, but I have seen Ah Counters individually turn the Toastmasters meeting into their own personal vendetta against filler words. These folks click everybody every time, with ferocious fervor. The more advanced the speaker, the less it matters, but I've seen some speakers get so intimidated, so distracted by the Ah Counter that they either lose track of their speech, or just bail altogether, particularly in Table Topics. At the end of the meeting, they give an amazingly detailed, and often derisive, rundown of the club's verbal hiccups.

As you may be able to tell, my preference is mostly the Selective Counter. Not using a clicker shortchanges the speaker from this especially helpful tool. They hear it, and mentally make a note that they don't want to make the same mistake again, and feel good when they actually ju, st pause, and hear nothing. Classic pain/pleasure conditioning as the Ah Counter was designed to be.

I don't believe in clicking a main speaker, but it has value. All other roles, in my opinion, can weather the clicking storm. Some Ah Counters ask when they introduce the role who wants to be clicked and who doesn't, which can add personal accountability while factoring the comfort level of each member.

I believe non-Toastmaster guests should NEVER be clicked, though I have often seen a guest give a table topic and motion to the Ah Master to click them when they use Ah or Um. Even hearing others get the clicker has value for many, it seems.

I also believe in discretion. The clicker is not meant to embarrass a speaker, but train them. When the clicks become the show instead of the speaker, it becomes a problem. Consider starting strong, then tapering down your clicker, clicking every other time, or stopping altogether if it is clearly not helping the speaker. Take in consideration the experience level and temperament of the speaker.

As for the final report? I support fully detailed counts of each speaker's filler words, as long as time allows, and the report is given respectfully. There is some humor to be found depending on the scenario, and most people have a thick enough skin to take hearing they had 68 Ums. But your delivery of the news will factor into how they take it, and how the club responds. Consider yourself an Ah Doctor - and do no harm. With guests, you might consider reporting that you have tallied them up, and will share the results with them after the meeting if they desire. Why risk embarrassing someone whose mentality you haven't had time to gauge?

Personal Pet Peeve - Ah Counters who give reports that go like this: "Oh, the speeches were so interesting, I just got lost in everything, and didn't hear much. Gee, you all did a great job." Yeesh. Ah Counter is a job that offers real benefits to your fellow members - don't shortchange them, whether you're clicking or not.

The Other Side of the Coin

In this case, you are the speaker getting clicked. Too many times I have watched speakers start a back and forth with the Ah Counter, often to the bemusement of the rest of the members. While this can ease the tension, it can also increase it, putting pressure on the Ah Counter, and raising your own frustration level. Don't let the clicker be anything other than a reminder, rubber band snap on the wrist. Keep your momentum going, and simply move through your speech.

As I always suggest, record your speeches, so you can see for yourself all the filler words you've used. You're likely to hear more than even the most diligent counter will notice. Don't be intimidated by the Ah Counter - they should be there to help you.

I like the Ah Counter - My first club clicked away and gave an award to the person who got the most clicks - it was a fun-loving group and it worked for us. The most common result I hear outside TM is that we all start hearing other people's Ahs & Ums that we never did before. That works for us as well, helping us remember how we might sound, and possibly identifying new members!

These are my thoughts - but your club is your club. Does your club have a consistent approach to the Ah Counter? When was the last time it was even talked about? Consistent reinforcement is much more effective than sporadic application of the clicker from meeting to meeting. Consider bringing this up at your next officers meeting, or even within the club business meeting. Create expectations for the Ah Counter that can be used each week, and even printing them up for the Ah Counter to use each week.

No matter what you decide, remember the Ah Counter, like any tool, can be both helpful and harmful. Next time you are the Ah Counter, be sure you know your clubs expectations, and remember - Do No Harm.


  1. I HATE THE CLICKER! It's hard for new members to focus as it is and that just makes it work in my opinion. We had one TM that decided a bell would be rung when you had gone overtime.....but he chose to ignore it - needless to say, I spoke to him immediately after that meeting and the bell went away.

    So, and but etc - DO NOT CLICK!!! :)

  2. I agree with the concept of the Selective Clicker (or in our club's case, Ringer.) One of the core benefits of Toastmasters is to provide immediate feedback, and the bells/clicker/etc. fulfill that function. We have an informal limit of three dings per speaker, no matter how many more ums they use. If they don't get the message after three times, more bell-ringing won't benefit them. Formal speeches and guests are exempt from any bell-ringing. As in all things, good judgment goes a long way toward making a tool useful rather than destructive.

  3. I would never belong to a club that uses a clicker (bell, etc.). It's disruptive, not supportive, and does not create a positive environment. I also do not support "fines". For a time I belonged to a club that had fines, but as grammarian I would give everyone amnesty. (I wasn't the only member who didn't enforce the fines.)

    When asked about giving more immediately feedback on ahs and ums, I've suggested that members work with their mentor for some kind of visual signal. I've seen one member completely eliminate filler words in just six months using that technique.

  4. We tried the clicker. It lasted for about 1 1/3 meetings.

  5. Our club has done away with the ah/um counter role entirely. While it has its uses we have found that it focuses too much on what the SPEAKER says and less on the effect of what they say has on the AUDIENCE. As long as the speaker is engaging the audience and giving a speech relevant to their needs a few ahs/ums or stumbles isn't a big deal. If a speaker DOES have a lot of ahs/ums the evaluator mentions it, and the speaker has the opportunity to review their video and hear what they actually did (as opposed to what they THOUGHT they did). Often after a few speeches the ahs/ums naturally go away as the speaker focuses more on getting their message across to the audience and less on their own nervousness.



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