Filler words: the silent killer of smooth speeches

6 Techniques to Stop Saying Filler Words: Eliminate the Ahs & Ums!

What are Filler Words?

Filler words are any meaningless sounds, words, or phrases a speaker uses during a speech to fill in a silence or a gap. We never write these words in text, but almost all speakers use them without even knowing it. If you’re a member of Toastmasters, you might already be familiar with what I am saying.

Examples

  • Well
  • Um/Uh
  • Hmm
  • Like
  • You see/You know
  • Or something
  • Okay, so…
  • Uh-uh/Right

These seemingly harmless words might seem just that…harmless. But what is so bad about using them? Don’t they make a speech sound more natural?

The thing is that the use of filler words is completely meaningless. They do not add any value to your speech or message.

So why say something that won’t add any value to your audience? Also, using words like um and ah excessively in a speech can make you seem less credible and believable. The audience will be unlikely to reckon you as a figure of authority when you use filler words repeatedly.

Why Do We Use Filler Words?

The most obvious reason to be using filler words is that you are not completely sure of what you’re saying.

Note: This only applies to people who use filler words excessively. Using an ah or an um here and there doesn’t mean the person is not confident in what she is saying.

But when someone is excessively using it, it might be because of the following reasons:

  • They are not entirely convinced of what they are saying themselves
  • They have not practiced or mentally rehearsed the message they want to convey
  • They are lying
  • They are just not the best verbal communicators
  • They are extremely nervous

Are Filler Words Bad?

When you speak fluently, it emanates confidence. That’s why one needs to be wary of filler words. But I must say, filler words are not the doom of all speeches.

In fact, as I said before, a few of these words make a speaker seem more natural. Using filler words won’t tarnish a speech which is delivered well and has a worthy message.

That being said, we should strive to be more fluent speakers and reduce our use of filler words.

Here are a few ways that might help you do just that:

Record Yourself

To reduce your use of filler words, you first need to know how often are you even using them in the first place. Video/audio recording yourself is a great way to do just that.

Many times, we are not aware of our use of fillers.

So when we record ourselves, we can see how often are we using them and if there is a reason as to why we are doing so. For instance, are we using them when we forget a line, are we using them when we’re transitioning from one point to the next etc.

Recording, evaluating and improving yourself is not only a great way to help you reduce the usage of filler words but is also just a great way to practice speaking in general.

Related article: 4 Reasons for Video Recording Yourself While Practicing a Speech

Slow Down!

go slow and steady in your speech, like the tortoise from the children's book

Filler words occur when our mouth moves faster than our mind. When we can’t think of what to say next, we usually stumble upon a long uhhh…One of the quickest and easiest ways to reduce your use of filler words is to slow down.

Slow down your pace of talking and the crutch words will automatically reduce because you’ll give yourself the time to think about what you’re going to say next.

Not only will slowing down help reduce your use of filler words, but it will also make your speech clearer and makes it more consumable for the audience.

Practice

practice your speech to avoid filler words

We’ve all seen speakers who speak so fluently and confidently without ever needing to say a filler word. That’s mainly because these speakers know their content so well that they do not need to use words to fill in the gaps, they know what to say, when to say it and how to say it.

This is only because of practice! When you practice and are familiar with your content, your brain will know what to say; so it does not need to use filler words.

I have observed this in myself as well. When I practice, my filler words are low to none. When I decide to “wing it”, I use ahs and ums excessively. When we practice, we are confident and know what we want to say which in turn reduces our need of using unnecessary filler words.

Be Okay With Silence

When we start out speaking on stage, a moment of silence while your speech is on can seem dreadful. So when we struggle to find something to say, we use filler words to fill in the gap.

If we would just realise that being silent on stage for a moment is alright, we wouldn’t be at a loss for words all the time.

When you feel like you have nothing to say, stay silent. In fact, silence can add more effect to your speech as well. So, don’t be afraid to be silent. Embrace it and use it to your advantage.

Even deliberately pauses once in a while when speaking can drastically bring down your use of filler words.

Structure Your Speech

structure your speech to avoid filler words

A well-structured speech not only helps navigate your audience through your message, but it also reduces the use of filler words. When your speech is structured, it means that it has been thought through and planned for.

It has been organized in a manner that helps you flow from one point to the next. It makes it easier for you to know what you are going to say and hence, reduces the chances of you using filler words.

Related article: How to structure a speech

Learn Speech Transitions

Words like ah and um signal that you have something more to say, that you are not done talking. But what if instead you used words like ‘moving on to’, ‘on the other hand’, ‘let’s go back to’ – it makes your speech flow so much more smoothly.

Speech transitions can be an effective subject to study.

It eliminates your need to use filler words and instead makes the use of transitional words which are much more relevant to your speech.

Related article: Effective Speech Transitions: How to make your Speech Flow

If you’re using filler words too often, there are steps you can take to eliminate them. Minimizing the usage of filler words will help you get a step closer to being a more credible and fluent speaker!

Hrideep Barot is the founder and chief writer at Frantically Speaking, a portal to help people learn everything about public speaking. The purpose of franticallyspeaking.com is to showcase the lessons that he has learned (and still learning) from his numerous stage experiences and mentors over all these years.