How To Stop Saying Um

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Filler words such as “like” “um” “you know” “uh” can be very distracting in public speaking because they take away from the message you want to convey to your audience. In this Explearing Communications lesson, I teach you speech delivery techniques to avoid fillers in your speech. Your message will have more impact

Fillers words are like cover-up makeup. Your blemishes don’t show, but everyone knows you didn’t wake up like that. When you pepper your talk with “ums and likes” you keep talking, but you’re not necessarily adding value. 

Those meaningless and inconsequential words we tend to pepper our speaking with always get a bad rap. Well, in public speaking there is a valid reason for this, but the same does not apply to interpersonal communication and social interaction … that’s in another post and video.

But let’s focus on public speaking for now. When you only have a limited amount of time to convey a message you want to make every.single.word count. 

Put yourself in your audience’s shoes. They have to follow along with very little guidance. There is no text to read from, and there may or may not be a PowerPoint or other form of visual aid. 

So you need to be extremely deliberate and thoughtful about your word choice. 

In spoken interaction it has become fashionable to sprinkle “likes” “ums” and “ya knows” here and there. But that is a back-and-forth, interactive conversation. When you are on stage you are not having a conversation. You are sharing your idea(s) in the form of a message. A speech is a one-way street. One person is doing the talking.

When you pepper your talk with “ums and likes” you keep talking, but you’re not necessarily adding value. 

An audience will quickly lose focus if the speaker is (1) rushing through their talk, (2) bombarding the audience with superfluous details, and (3) clogging the talk with fillers.

Here are 4 strategies to help you eliminate your fillers in public speaking so that you can give a more powerful presentation. 

Strategy #1: Prepare

When you are a subject matter expert (or as close to becoming one as possible given time constraints, access to information, level of experience, etc.) we have a clear picture of the concept. We understand the subject enough to be able to speak intelligently about it.

Equipping yourself with knowledge, and diving into the research well before you give your talk or speech will give you ample prep time so that you can digest the information. If you understand the subject, you will be able to share the information more easily.

When you’re clear on something, you use fewer fillers. You’re too preoccupied with sharing your idea and not filling the time with just words. 

In fact, fillers detract from your message and make you sound less authoritative and knowledgeable on the subject. 

Strategy #2: Take your Time

When you slow it down, you give yourself thinking time. Thinking time allows you to recall your outline (not your script because you’re not memorizing your full speech) and make your next point. It allows you to work with the audience and check their pulse. Are they listening? Have they phased out? Are they engaged, sitting on the edge of their seats? Or are you being heckled? 

Giving yourself time to pay attention to what is actually happening in the meeting room, auditorium, stage, wherever you’re giving the talk allows you to add a little bit of impromptu. 

If you speak a mile a minute you will blurt out something you hadn’t intended to say, you’ll sound unprepared, and you will ramble. And it goes without saying that along the way of rushing through your talk, you will certainly have fillers. 

So if you really want to avoid fillers, you will take your time and speak slowly. And the extra perks are in (1) giving you thinking time (2) checking in with your audience (3) not going off on a tangent because you can recall your outline. 

Strategy #3: Remember your Outline

If you try to memorize your script you’ll either (1) sound like a robot if you can actually memorize your speech verbatim which is a big ask or (2) have a blackout moment and go blank (due to stage fright or being heckled etc.) due to nerves thereby self-sabotaging your talk.

Don’t memorize your script. Stick to your skeleton framework and be very very crystal clear on what points and details you will share. You’re not trying to pull a rabbit out of a hat here. Just focus on your points.

When you stick to your outline you have a clear picture in your mind of your roadmap. You know where you’re going. You know where you’re taking your audience. By keeping your outline top of mind, once you make one point you’re already thinking about the next point. Fillers vanish. They don’t even come into your mental space. BECAUSE YOU HAVE YOUR ROADMAP in mind. 

Strategy #4: Use of Pause and Silence

When you get the urge to bust out a filler, try using a pause instead. Silence is golden. You do not need to fill every moment with speaking time. Incorporate gestures, use pause, and make eye contact with the audience.

When you leverage silence sprinkled in between points you do a few things. 

(1) You give the audience time to process the information. As it stands, in public speaking one of the challenges is to be able to follow the speaker through the entire talk. It’s easy to get distracted especially since the audience does not have a text in front of them. Fillers add to this distraction because you’re cramming more words than needed into the speech, unnecessarily. 

(2) You can drive home a point. Pause is very effective in having people pay extra close attention to the point that’s just been made or the one that you’re about to make at the end of the pause. Use it!

(3) Pause also allows you to pace the stage. You would typically do this during transitions, which is ideal. And since we advise against walking and talking, you would pace the stage during a silent period…a little pause! (Here’s the link to the video tutorial about pacing the stage!)

So there you have 4 strategies to help you get rid of those fillers in public speaking. Remember, not all fillers are created equal and not all fillers are bad… say in interpersonal communication or casual social interaction. However, for the reasons mentioned above, we want to steer clear of fillers in public speaking if you want to give a powerful presentation. 

Check out more communication video lessons on our YouTube channel: Explearning Communication Coaching

Happy Explearning 🐝