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Avoid Meaningless Fillers When Speaking

by Ron Kurtus (31 May 2015)

A habit many people have when talking is to include meaningless fillers, such as "um", "like", and "you know" inbetween phrases. You may notice this during general conversation, but if it occurs during a speech or presentation, it can detract from what is being said.

Unfortunately, using these fillers disrupts the quality of what is being said and can even be annoying.

Reasons you may use such expressions can be that it is simply a bad habit or that you are unsure of what you will be saying next. Some call the habit a form of "verbal virus" that can infect speakers.

If you notice having such a problem yourself or if someone mentions it to you, it is a good idea to take steps to correct using such meaningless expressions.

Questions you may have include:

This lesson will answer those questions.

"Ah" and "um"

Saying "ah" or "um" during your speech is an indication that you aren't quite sure of what you are going to so. It is a subtle pause to let your mind search for the next words to use. It is also an indication that you aren't prepared to give the speech.

Listen to commentators on television or to professional speakers. They seldom—if ever—use "ah" when they are speaking.

Note: Toastmasters Clubs emphasize avoiding using "ah", "um" or other fillers within a speech. They often have an ah-counter, who records the number of "ah's" used in a speech. Some clubs even use a buzzer to warn the speaker when a filler is used. The type of feedback trains members to avoid using those words.

(See Toastmasters Helps Refine Speaking Skills for more information.)

"You know" and "like"

Often using fillers such as "you know" and "like" are part of everyday speaking. You hear people in a conversation using such fillers in every sentence or even several times within a sentence. For example:

"Like, I started walking to the store, you know, and it was like raining outside, you know. Like I was getting all wet, and you know I didn't have an umbrella."

If you use the expression in your conversations, you certainly use it in your speeches.

A way to stop using those fillers is to notice when others are constantly doing it. This will help you notice when you use them and help you eliminate the habit.

Using such fillers is is bad enough in a conversation, but it really does not sound good in a speech.

Stopping habit

A good way to stop to using meaningless fillers yourself is to be aware when others are using them. This can be a reminder not to use them yourself.

Record yourself speaking

Record you speeches and even conversations to find out if your are saying "you know", "like", or other fillers. You can evern ask your friends if they notice you doing that.

2. Pause

Whenever you catch yourself saying a non-word, just stop talking. Say nothing. This gap of silence will feel scary at first, but if the pause is no longer than 5 seconds, the listener will scarcely notice. A pause will help you gather your thoughts while giving the listener time to
reflect on what you have just said.

4. Enlist the help of a friend or spouse

Explain what you are trying to do and invent a code word he or she can use every time you use a filler word. The constant reminder will help you break the habit fast.




Resources and references

Ron Kurtus' Credentials

The following resources provide information on this subject:

Web sites

Cutting Out Filler Words - Toastmasters International

Speaking Resources


Top-rated books on Public Speaking

Questions and comments

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