I’ve addressed the topic of filler words a few times and for good reason! They are everywhere and they absolutely kill your message. They distract and detract – all while making us look less than intelligent. They do nothing for us and yet, so many of us are attached to using them! Having helped countless clients eliminate their dependence on filler words, I’ve come to the conclusion that there are three primary reasons why speakers rely on them in the first place.
- People run into trouble during their speech. Heightened anxiety is one of the foremost triggers for the use of filler words. Ums and uhs tend to be used when you’re trying to think and speak at the same time, which is why they often emerge during transitions into a new topic or at the beginning of a sentence. Your brain is idling at the intersection of planning and executing what to say next. It’s involuntary but can be controlled. You are actually thinking out loud, and irritating your listeners.
- People are unprepared. Your filler words are often placeholders to kill time. As a result, your audience will perceive that you decided to wing it or that you’re not confident in what you’re saying – leaving them with a poor impression. Often people are searching for the perfect thing to say. As a result, when your mind is juggling opposing thoughts—thinking about one word and trying to speak a different one—it gets locked up. So you blurt out the first thing that comes into your head, which is often “um,” “like,” or “ya know.”
- People are signaling for some kind of help. How often during a conversation has someone jumped in while you’re idling, forcing you to use um’s and uh’s in hope of continuing your course? Impatient or perhaps feeling sorry for you, someone else speaks to fill the void. You just lost control! Or even worse, they perceive that you are being dishonest in real time. You’re buying time to think of an excuse or getting defensive.
Many times, I don’t need to videotape my clients to make them realize they are overusing filler words. Most people know they have a problem already – but they don’t know how to cut it out. There are two core principles that have helped clients cut down on the fillers:
- Limit anything that can distract you: Ums, ahs, and likes are often used because you become distracted by someone or something in the room. Trying to keep control, you revert to filler word mode. Try to stay focused. Less distractions means more focus and fewer fillers.
- Keep your sentences short: The longer the sentence, the more opportunity for filler words. In your attempt to soften your language or to be politically correct, you will weaken your tone. Just speak in plain English and you’ll find the filler words evaporating like magic.
By being prepared, staying focused, and keeping things short and simple, you’ll be well on your way to cutting out the filler!