The Toastmasters group I attended for three disappointing weeks had an "um" counter.
That person was assigned to monitor the members' speeches for the "um" and other filler words. Clearly, they were classified as no-nos.
But, as the New York Magazine points out, "um" and other filler worlds can be used strategically. And smart people do just that.
For example, by peppering our conversation with a few of those filler words, we can create the impression that we are giving great thought to what we are saying. That would be useful for lawyers to do in those complimentary consultations with prospects. The message delivered would be: I have listened carefully and am struggling to help you in the best way possible.
In the talks I have listened to since exiting Toastmasters I have been very alert to the "ums" et al. In general I found them to frame the speech as not tightly scripted. That reinforced the speaker's authenticity.
And, isn't authenticity the golden grail of public speaking today? Donald Trump's ability to create rhetoric which is experienced by the audience as totally authentic has been his winning signature trait. Jurors, of course, are influenced by lawyers who come across as authentic versus totally stylized.
Also, the "um" gives us in the audience or on the jury the opportunity to take in the train of thought. Actually it could have been scripted in as a rhetorically acceptable way of pausing. Full disclosure: That's exactly what I did in my 60-minute webinar for TalentMarks on selling oneself in the current labor market. Otherwise the content would have been too dense.
It's sad that public-speaking training programs such as the Toastmasters don't deal with the complexities of how human speech is transmitted and received. A set of rigid stylistic rules is unlikely to create a great public speaker. And greatness in public speaking, as we know from Trump's success, can create whole new career opportunities. It can also close a sale or persuade a jury.