When you’re thinking, distracted or nervous it’s easy to use filler words such as um, ah, like, you know and so in your sentences. But then before you know it, those innocent-seeming filler words have become part of every sentence and they actually begin to diminish your credibility, make you sound less academic and also distract from what you’re trying to say.
These filler words can also be called crutch words because they hold up sentences and help to string conversations together.
Here’s how to quit filler words…
Replace them with pauses.
Being aware you are using filler words frequently is the first step to stopping. You can’t stop what you don’t know if going on.
Notice when you’re about to say a filler word and stop yourself. Practise this by doing an action each time you use ‘um’ or ‘er’ or ‘like’, such as clapping or touching your ear, so that you recognise the frequency and get in to the habit of pausing instead of saying the filler word and doing the action (as it’s a bit more of an effort). If you’re struggling to know how much you use filler words, record yourself on your phone, it’ll give you an accurate account of how others listen to you, and may well give you the kick you need
Take a moment to collect your thoughts so that you prepare in your head what you’re going to say next. If you loose your train of thought mid-way through, just pause rather than saying um. Make sure not to pause for any longer than five seconds or your audience may notice
You’ll find if you test this, it’s a lot more difficult to say ‘um’ and ‘er’ if you’re looking someone in the eye, so try turning your body to look at someone straight on when you’re speaking to them, giving them your entire attention
Pausing helps to calm your nerves (useful for any public speaking). Nerves are the biggest reason people overuse fillers and so taking a moment can help you to breathe, reset and begin again
Pausing and silence can help to build suspense and allows time for the audience to absorb the information, so if this is the nature of your speech then filler words can hinder your story