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  • Writer's pictureBarbara Mayfield, MS, RDN, LD, FAND

No more filler words! 5 tips for stronger speech.

Man with mouth open and letters spilling out

When you open your mouth to speak, what is the first sound you utter? Is it um or ah as you decide what to say?

When you give a speech or even have a conversation, how often do you include these vocal disfluencies, commonly referred to as vocal fillers? Fillers include not only sounds such as um, er, and ah, but also words such as so, like, okay, and you know.

What’s the problem with filler words?

Filler words make a presenter or communicator feel and appear less confident and credible. And if we don’t appear sure of ourselves, why should an audience trust us?

According to research published in the Harvard Business Review, the average speaker uses a filler word every 12 seconds.

An occasional filler can make us appear relatable and authentic, but excessive use of filler words distracts our audience and forces them to work harder to pay attention and believe what we say. To be an effective communicator, eliminating filler words is a worthwhile goal.

Would you like to eliminate filler words from your speaking? Follow these 5 Tips for Eliminating Filler Words:

Tip #1: Filler words are unnecessary and distracting.

Filler words are those pesky little utterances such as um, ah, so, and, you know, like, okay… which distract listeners and lower our effectiveness as communicators. Filler words are unnecessary and make our communication wordy rather than clean and concise. Replace them with silence – a purposeful pause makes a much better impact.

Tip #2: Become aware of your filler words.

Eliminating a bad habit begins with awareness. Pay attention to your use of filler words. Notice which ones you tend to use and when you use them. If necessary, record your speaking and replay to listen for the fillers you use most. Practice speaking in front of others and ask them to write down the fillers used and the number of times you repeat them.

Tip #3: Open your mouth without saying “um”

A great first step in eliminating fillers is to always begin speaking without them. You might be surprised how many people begin talking with a great big “UMMM,” emphasizing they are collecting their thoughts. Holding your lips together and silently thinking before speaking and then using meaningful words is much more effective.

Tip #4: Use purposeful pauses.

A purposeful pause is an effective tool in speech. It helps both communicator and audience reflect on what has been said and collect their thoughts before moving on. A thoughtful pause separates ideas, helps gain attention, and builds suspense. Speakers who use pauses skillfully are considered more honest and truthful. Avoid filling a pause with a filler word. Silence is power.

Tip #5: Practice, practice, practice!

The more prepared you are for speaking the fewer filler words you use. Practice answering questions and formulating ways to share ideas. With practice your words will flow naturally without fillers. Repeat the second tip to be aware of any continuing use of fillers by recording your practice or asking someone to listen to you. Eliminate those fillers!

You CAN eliminate fillers:

  • Become aware of which fillers you use most often

  • Begin speaking without fillers

  • Pause without fillers

  • Practice

Download a copy of this tip sheet. Need more help? A Toastmasters club can provide a supportive environment to practice public speaking and will help make eliminating filler words a priority. Find a club near you.

“Nothing strengthens authority so much as silence.” ~ Leonardo da Vinci

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