Do you find yourself wishing you could stop using filler words? Ever tried to convince yourself that this is the presentation you will finally not say "um," only to die inside when five seconds in to your speech you utter your first, "ahhh?"
As much as we may disparage them, it is important to note that filler words have a purpose.
It is difficult to stand up and speak in a world where everyone is talking and no one has time to listen. When we present, we feel this pressure and filler words give the speaker time to pause and think. In those moments where we are not sure what to say next or are thinking on the fly filler words are a natural response to the uncertainty. As Steven D. Cohen of Harvard University writes, filler words are us "thinking verbally."
While these words serve a purpose, they also can be a distraction. Too many filler words can give your listener the impression that you are underprepared or overly nervous. And, so while they serve a purpose reducing your usage of filler words is a good idea.
Here, are three things to remember as you work to curtail these pesky words.
Silence is Golden
Moments of purposeful pauses in a presentation are powerful.
As speakers we can avoid silence because we fear losing the audience's attention, but silence during a presentation is quite useful. Silence gives the audience time to process information and to anticipate your next statement. Silence also gives you as the speaker time to think. Furthermore, a well timed pause before and after a sentence is a fantastic way to emphasize an important point. As a speaker do not fear the silence, use it to your advantage.
Practice in Your Everyday Conversations
When it comes to filler words you will likely repeat on stage what you do in your day to day conversations.
In your daily conversations practice placing silence where you usually think out loud. These settings are a great place to practice because the stakes are generally low. If you leave too long of a pause in a conversation with a friend it is cause for laughter rather than embarrassment. You can also ask friends and family to hold you accountable.
This practice may seem awkward at first, but it will become natural. When it is your turn to present, you will find yourself repeating on stage what you are already doing in your regular conversations.
You Are in Good Company
Take a moment to relax and look around you. Some incredible, eloquent speakers use filler words with regularity. When speaking in press conferences and interviews Barak Obama often thinks verbally and yet he captivates audiences around the world.
So, while the quest to use filler words less frequently is a good idea, give yourself a bit of a break.
Your college professor who told you had to stop saying "like" for anyone to take you seriously is not entirely correct.
Ultimately, people will listen to you based on the thoughtfulness and eloquence of your ideas. Yes, filler words can distract from those ideas, but they do not doom you to the realm of ineloquence.