Speak Like a Professional: How To Stop Using Filler Words
So, like, umm, and yeah.
In conversation, most people use what are called filler words like these, also referred to as “crutch” words.
Excessive use of these words, however, can make whatever point we’re trying to get across sound less important or meaningful, and may even tune your listeners out.
While using filler words occasionally isn’t necessarily a big deal, too much use of them will hinder your ability to position yourself as a fluent speaker.
What are Filler Words & Why People Use Them
Filler words like um, like, and uh litter many of our conversations. Although these little words don’t add meaning to your statements, they do perform a function in conversations. They allow you to take a second and think about what you’re going to say next. They let the person you are having a conversation with know that you’re not quite finished speaking yet, even if you’ve paused for a moment. They often even fill an awkward silence.
While typically acceptable in normal conversations, filler words can be detrimental to public speaking. Using a filler word may make it sound like you have forgotten what you’re about to say next. They break your audience’s attention from your message.
How to Stop Using Filler Words & Eliminate Them from Your Vocabulary
There are a number of techniques we can use to reduce (or completely eliminate) our use of verbal crutches– whether it’s in a formal presentation or in everyday conversation. To be clear, filler words aren’t a problem if they’re used infrequently. Even in a professional presentation, most listeners will expect a few um’s and ah’s. Only when the usage of meaningless words becomes a regular occurrence is when using filler words becomes a problem.
Below, I have listed a few methods you can try to help you get rid of filler words and become a more fluent and confident speaker.
Most new public speakers have a wide range of physiological and psychological symptoms when coping with glossophobia, or the fear of public speaking. When we’re worried, we tend to speak faster and use more filler words in our speech.
Because many people automatically speed up when they are nervous, scared, or worried, slowing down may be easier said than done. You’ll be able to recognize and avoid reliance on go-to verbal crutches far more readily if you can slow down your delivery—whether it’s at a company meeting, telling a friend a story, or during a TedTalk.
Slowing down your speech will help you be more aware of your thoughts, helping whatever idea or talking points you have come out easier and more fluid in presentations.
Instead of using fillers in your speeches, you should practice embracing the power of the pause in your talk. All great public speakers are masters of the pause.
They are comfortable with silences. When they are moving on to the next point or holding for dramatic effect, they take a deep breath, stay relaxed and keep smiling before saying anything. They know that the pause is a key part of good public speaking.
Since we use filler words so often, cutting them from your vernacular and replacing them with pauses may feel unnatural.
That’s why it’s so important to practice your presentation. Practice a few rounds of your presentation focusing heavily on the filler words. Once actively focus on the filler words, you will notice how much, or how little, you say them. Then, actively catch yourself in the moment and use a pause to replace it.
That pause will show your audience that you are confident in your speaking abilities and keep them engaged in your presentation.
Recording oneself is an excellent approach to build a sense of awareness of filler words. It’s difficult to know how you sound unless you really hear yourself. This is why it’s so important to take a step back and review a video of yourself. Listen to how often you tend to use filler words when you are speaking.
You should practice and video record any key speech at least 3 to 5 times. Examine your audio after each attempt and keep track of how many filler words you used. Also, look at your body language to help you master your stage presence even more.
After that, count the number of filler words in your speech and go over it again.
During your free time, you can practice impromptu speaking. Choose a random topic or object and speak for at least one minute about it without using crutch words.
Present in Front of Others
A great way to mind your fillers and improve as a speaker is by practicing in front of a trusted audience before presenting your speech or presentation. This allows you to get more comfortable speaking to an audience while getting honest and constructive feedback on your use of crutch words.
By utilizing your network of friends, family, coworkers, and so on, you can run through your presentation while someone keeps track of your “likes,” “you know,” and “ums.”
Your trusted audience will act as a sounding board for how you can improve your speech overall as well. They may express that you need to touch more on your important points, use a more confident voice, stay relaxed, take more pauses, and so forth. These comments can help you visualize your speech from the audience’s perspective and incorporate their feedback in your speaking.
All of these exercises should help you become more conscious of your speech patterns. This is not the point where you should pass judgment on yourself or try to make things better straight soon. Simply start paying attention to the filler words you say the most and when you say them. To begin removing fillers from your speaking, you must become conscious of your favorite filler words and notice your own pattern of usage.
You will reach a point when you are more aware of your filler word patterns. You will subconsciously start catching yourself just before you use your filler word and make an active decision not to. You’ll be more focused and present in your delivery, making these words a rare occurrence in your speech. With the practice of these procedures, awareness will emerge.
Forcing yourself to observe other people’s speech patterns can also help you become more aware of how often you use the word “like” informal conversations, say “uh” before answering questions, or start sentences with an unnecessary “so” during a business meeting.
Expand Your Vocabulary
We also tend to use fillers when we’re not confident in our speech or when we can’t seem to find the right words. By expanding your vocabulary, you will have a much larger repertoire of words at your disposal. It will also allow you to improve your written and spoken communication abilities, be more confident, and use fewer filler words.
If you want to expand your public speaking vocabulary, make it a habit to learn new words on a regular basis and write them down. Keep a thesaurus and dictionary nearby so that whenever you come across a word that you don’t understand, look it up, and take the time to commit the word and its definition to memory. You can then figure out the best context in which to use that word and use it in a sentence next time the topic comes up.
The golden rule: practice, practice, practice.
Practicing will help you gain the confidence you need to eliminate fillers and improve your delivery. It allows you to strengthen your presenting skills and perfect the message you want to get across to your audience, without the use of crutch words.
While it may seem time-consuming and annoying at first, practice helps prevent you from getting nervous during your speech and reverting to filler words you have focused on getting rid of. In other words, the more you practice, the more comfortable you will feel speaking and presenting without the crutch of fillers.
We are more focused and effective in our delivery when we are prepared for any communication scenario. To cement healthy habits in our arsenal of talents, we should practice using the tools described above to remove filler words and feel more confident when we speak. Practice is an absolutely critical part of ridding these fillers from our speech.
The usage of filler words is a bad habit. Begin removing them from your vocabulary by forming new, healthy habits that will define your speaking and leadership abilities, as well as your future! You create your own habits by consciously choosing them. Practice them and get rid of the ones that don’t work for you.
Reference these tools to help reduce your reliance on fillers. Practicing and preparing are essential to your ability to communicate your message with passion and fervor. The more you plan and prepare, the more confidence you will have when you finally stand up to speak. Start today and check out my FREE 5-minute speech PDF to help you plan for your next speech!
About Brian Tracy — Brian is recognized as the top sales training and personal success authority in the world today. He has authored more than 60 books and has produced more than 500 audio and video learning programs on sales, management, business success and personal development, including worldwide bestseller The Psychology of Achievement. Brian's goal is to help you achieve your personal and business goals faster and easier than you ever imagined. You can follow him on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Linkedin and Youtube.