One of the most common problems new public speakers have is the use of filler words. Words like “um”, “uh”, “alright”, “you know” and “so” are commonly used when the speaker is trying to think of the next thing to say.
If you fix this problem, you’ll instantly look smarter.
Film yourself giving a speech, then write down any unnecessary word that you repeatedly say. (You can also use an audio recording or have an audience member count for you). It’s not always “um” and “uh”. Some people say full phrases such as “the fact of the matter is”.
Here’s how you can eradicate these filler words from your public speaking vocabulary.
1. Prepare and practice more
Simply fixing filler words without fixing the underlying issue will result in a speech with several awkward pauses.
If you find yourself using filler words because you take a while to think about what to say next, then you need to be better prepared.
2. Improve your standard transitions
One of the most common times to use a filler word is when you’re trying to transition between thoughts or sentences. Um… this happens because you’re trying to think of the next thing to say. You know?
Practice using a few better transition statements. While these can become their own filler phrases, they’re superior to stumbling or using “um” or “uh”. Some examples could be “the next point is”, “let’s move on to”, “another thing to consider is”, and similar phrases. Ideally, you will only need to use these a couple of times.
3. Slow down
Sometimes you use filler words because you’re simply moving too fast for your thoughts to keep up. Slowing down even just a little bit can give you more time to collect your thoughts.
In fact, slowing down is almost universally a good idea. Most people speak too fast when they are nervous.
4. Just pause
Many people are afraid to pause. The silence makes them feel uncomfortable. You need to get over that fear of silence and embrace the pause.
If you speak when you’re not ready to, you will either fill the space with filler words or with nonsense. Pausing will give you a sense of authority and help emphasize the words that you do say.
To get used to this, film yourself giving a speech where you pause after every sentence. Notice that what feels like an abnormally long pause to you will feel natural when you watch it back.
5. Use a filler word drill
If your problem is particularly bad, you may want to spend some time drilling out the behavior.
Give a speech in front of a volunteer and have them throw something at you or snap their fingers every time you use a filler word. You’ll quickly learn to pause and think instead of using a filler word.
Another interesting drill for particularly serious cases comes to us courtesy of the Art of Charm podcast. The idea is to audio record a speech or conversation, then use an audio-editing program like Audacity (free) to edit out each filler word one by one. This process is painfully slow and annoying, which will help drive home a desire to stifle your filler words.
6. Focus on your speech
If you’re busy thinking about what a specific person thinks about you, for example, you will use more filler words because your brain is struggling to think of what to say next.
Make sure your full attention is actually on what you are trying to say. Don’t let yourself get carried away by a stray thought.
7. Use lists
Structure your speech so that you are basically listing a series of points or items. For example, take the typical three point speech structure.
You’re vulnerable to filler words when you’re trying to transition between thoughts. So if you have a specific amount of points, you can say “the 2nd point is that…” etc. That way you always know how to transition to the next thought. It’s not the best transition, but it’ll do if you’re simply trying to avoid filler words.
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