I fancy myself something of a decent speaker. While I certainly don't rise to superstar level, I am quite comfortable speaking to groups of people, large or small, and think I do it well. In the past, I've presented at various conferences on topics in EMS, and the reviews have been decent.
One of my presentations, ironically, is "How to give a presentation."
I haven't added it yet, but I'm going to put in a blip on speaking tics. Things like saying "um" or "uh" with frequency. To that list, I'll add "so."
I noticed that several people with whom I work will start a sentence with the word "So" often. VERY often. One co-worker used "So" as the first word of a sentence 65 times in an hour long lecture recently (yes, I counted.) President Obama uses "uh" quite a bit. Athletes seem to do it as well. "You know" is another one, along with "well" and "um."
As a speaker, I find these tics annoying at best, and detracting at worst. I don't think it indicates a lack of intelligence, but I do think it shows lack of though and consideration. It is perfectly acceptable, I believe, to pause for a moment when asked a question to formulate your thoughts into a coherent reply. Take a second or two... rub your chin... gaze off to the distance for a moment... shift your body posture... these non-verbal actions indicate that you've heard the question, you think it's a good question (makes the person asking feel pretty good about themselves,) and the question is worthy of a thoughtful answer. You build a connection between the questioner and yourself. You build credibility. You LOOK intelligent, professional, and respectable.
Speaking tics aren't usually something we notice in ourselves. It usually requires someone pointing them out to us, and they always require effort to change. The same applies, of course, to physical habits... I used to rub my palms together during interviews, and never knew it until I got a job and the person who interviewed me later pointed it out. Once made aware of it, I focused on changing the behavior, and now I don't do it at all. But it took effort.
Take a good, honest look at your speech patterns, ask trusted friends for feedback, and see if you have these habits. Try to change them, and you'll find that your speech giving skills improve dramatically.
So, um, you know what I, uh, mean?