Avoid Filler Words

Filler Words

Beginning public speakers often exhibit the bad habit of utilizing filler words (um, ah, like, so, you know, etc.) while speaking. Herein, we’ll explore why these non-words rarely serve your message and should be minimized (if not removed entirely.) In our public speaking and leadership training classes and coaching we get lots of questions regarding filler words. Our public speaking students ask: Should we never use them and consider it a catastrophic failure if we accidently do? Should we simply be less formal and use filler words as we might in regular speech? Fact is, speakers should learn to minimize filler words because it does affect the reception and effectivity of your message. A habit of overusing these insignificant words will have a definitively negative affect your speaking outcomes. Let’s explore why we should eliminate these meaningless, distracting words from our communications.

Words Without Meaning

Filler words do not have any additive power in our communications. They might as well be considered non-words or gibberish. If they add no meaning, value or weight to our communication they should not be a part of it. When speaking or in a leadership situation, we should be focused on the efficiency and efficacy of our communication. Filler words do nothing positive and are best left out of our communications. Let’s explore a few examples.

Exemplary, um Fillers

Filler words are a bit more than the common “ums” and “ahs.” These are sounds/pauses, words and even phrases that do nothing positive for your communication efficacy and success. Here is the naughty list:

  • Filler Sounds/Pauses — ex. ah, uh, um, so
  • Filler Words – ex. actually, basically, literally, supposedly, totally
  • Filler Phrases/Discourse Markers – ex. “I mean”, “I think that”, “you know”, “what I’m trying to say is”, “like I said”

All of these sounds, words and phrases arguably make sense in everyday conversations as they are discourse markers, interjections and verbal pauses. However, they don’t in public speaking, leadership communication or anywhere outside day to day informal communication.

We Distract Our Listeners

Overuse and abuse of filler words leaves our audience unable to focus on our message. Anything that keeps us from our singular focus of successfully delivering our message should be left by the wayside. Acknowledging that audiences have rather short attention spans and less than optimal listening patterns it makes sense to be focused in our word choice.

Other’s Judge Us

Others judge us far too frequently. As a result, we should make every effort to minimize any use of filler words. Unfortunately, our audience make assumptions based upon external factors such as our facial expression, body language, voice, the words we use and many other attributes. All happens in a blink of eye or a misplace “um or ah” and these new friends (or sometimes unfortunate foes) assume they have ‘sized us up’.

Perfection should be no one’s goal because it doesn’t exist and isn’t realistic. Rather, we should aim to minimize if not eliminate these filler words from our communications repertoire. We hope you now understand why filler words are non-words and don’t deserve any prevalence in our speech delivery. Have you got um, ahh-itus? We can help. Removing these meaningless words from your communications will only make you a better speaker and leader. Feel free to leave a question or comment below and continue the conversation.

Joseph Guarino is a professional public speaker, trainer and owner of the Institute of Public Speaking a Boston based international public speaking & leadership training organization. As a seasoned public speaking trainer & professional speaker he enjoys helping other succeed in this worthy and rewarding craft. The Institute of Public Speaking offers a variety of public speaking courses for individuals (1 on 1 training), executive speech coaching, one day public speaking bootcamps, advanced public speaking bootcamps and public speaking seminars for corporations & groups of any size.
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