Have you ever been distracted by a speaker's repeated use of filler words, such as "Uh" and "Um;" or annoyed by the repetition of a particular word or phrase, such as "So," "Like," "You know," "Okay," "Actually," or "Basically?" More importantly, do you know if your speech is littered with these fillers?
In the field of linguistics, fillers are called speech disfluencies.
A speech disfluency is any non-purposeful utterance that disrupts the flow of otherwise fluent speech.
They happen to all of us--in every language--especially
when we're nervous, stressed, tired, unprepared, or if we've developed the unconscious bad habit of using them. As innocent as they may seem,
excessive fillers jeopardize your credibility as a speaker and negatively impact how the audience perceives you. The good news is, you can face your fillers and break the habit through self-awareness and practice. Please consider the tips below for filler-free fluency.
Thank you for your readership, and best wishes for your continued speaking success!
Face Your Fillers
7 Ways to Minimize "Uhs" and "Ums"
By Darlene Price, Well Said, Inc.
"A bad habit never disappears miraculously.
It's an undo-it-yourself project.
--Abigail Van Buren
Meet Tom. He's a smart, personable, and hard-working sales account executive. He just delivered a big presentation to a group of prospective customers. Following the presentation, one of the prospects left him a note on the lectern that read: "You had 28 'Uhs' in your first minute." Additional feedback from others in the room, including Tom's boss, revealed that listeners were annoyed and distracted by Tom's excessive use of "Uhs" and "Ums." The prospects lacked confidence in Tom; they questioned his competence to serve as their account manager; and they hadn't understood the meaning and value of his product. Unfortunately, Tom did not win the business that day.
After this incident, Tom sought coaching and began an "
" to break the bad habit of using these discrediting fillers known as speech disfluencies. Within a few months of dedicated practice, his speech is now virtually filler-free, and his sales presentations and performance are significantly better. If your
speaking success could be improved by using fewer fillers, try the tips below. They worked for Tom and can work for you, too.
1. Become aware of your use of fillers.
For most speakers, the habit of using excessive fillers is completely unconscious; therefore, gaining awareness is the first step. Record yourself speaking at work. For example, record an upcoming talk or presentation; or your-side-only of a telephone conversation; or a virtual meeting where you'll be speaking, such as a webinar. Afterward, dedicate time to carefully listen to the recording. List and count the number of times you said "Uh," or "Um." Also count the occurrences of other overused words you may notice, such as "So," "Like," "You know," "Okay," "Actually," "Basically" and "Right."
If you hear the same filler word(s) more than three times, decide to take action, because fillers are likely distracting your audience and jeopardizing your credibility.
2. Ask for feedback.
Another way to build your awareness of fillers is the 'buddy system.' Recruit a trusted colleague, friend, or audience member to listen carefully to your words during a meeting, conversation, or presentation. Ask him or her to provide you with feedback afterward, specifically noting if your use of fillers is noticeable or distracting. If you decide you would like to minimize fillers, the following exercises will help.
3. Prepare and chunk your content ahead of time
. Filler words are often caused by lack of preparation. If the brain does not know where the mouth is headed, the result is often a hesitation filled with non-meaningful sound, e.g., "Uh" and "Um." Create an organized logical flow of your speaking points. Chunk the information into sections, such as Chunk 1: Greeting, Welcome and Thank you; Chunk 2: Name and Self-Introduction; Chunk 3: Purpose of the Presentation, etc. Thoroughly familiarize yourself with the overall outline and chunks. This technique of
helps you avoid rambling, and also
gets you into a rhythm, which minimizes the fillers.
4. Memorize and use transition statements. Saying an "Uh" or "Um" is often the speech equivalent to a wait cursor on a computer screen. Whether it's the Windows hourglass or Apple's spinning
beach ball, the user knows the computer
is engaged in a processor-intensive activity. Similarly, your "Uhs" signal your audience that you're not finished talking yet and need a moment to gather your thoughts. A more effective and fluent alternative is to use a prepared transition statement. Memorize, practice, and use any of the following transitions, and also create your own.
--Now that we've talked about X, let's move on to Y.
--Allow me to pause here and see if anyone has any questions or comments.
--We introduced X earlier; let's explore that further now.
--Let me recap the key benefits you gain: reduced costs. . .
--Another important consideration is. . .
Preparing and practicing these go-to transitions will become a fluent natural part of your speech, and will soon minimize your use of "Uhs" and "Ums."
5. Rehearse aloud. Replace fillers with silent pauses. Following the outline you've created, begin practicing aloud the first minute--just the opening 60 seconds. As you're speaking, be intentional and consciously strive to omit fillers. When you catch yourself on the verge of saying an "Uh" or "Um," stop. Insert a silent pause instead. Practice aloud until you can say the entire 60 seconds with no fillers. Record, listen, and evaluate. The goal is to become alert and self-aware, which enables you to thoughtfully replace fillers with silent pauses. If the "Uhs" persist, use a pattern interrupt.
6. Use a pattern interrupt. Rehearse aloud one minute of your talk while practicing the following: Loudly and firmly clap your hands once at the end of each phrase and sentence. Think of it as clapping at the punctuation marks (which is where fillers often occur). For example:
Good morning everyone and welcome. Single hand clap
Thank you for the opportunity to visit with you here at XYZ Company. Clap
My name is John Doe, Clap
and I serve as Vice President of Customer Operations for Acme. Clap
The purpose of our meeting today is a product demonstration, Clap
where we'll show you how Acme can help you achieve your top three goals: Clap
reduced costs; Clap
improved customer satisfaction; Clap
and increased revenue. Clap
Why does the pattern interrupt work? The hand clap literally interrupts the unconscious pattern of saying "Uh" and replaces it with a conscious sound and action---the clap---which you control. Next, say the same 60 seconds of content without clapping. Replace the claps with silent pauses. Repeat the exercise until the full minute of speech flows naturally and fluently, filler-free.
7. Rehearse and record a final dress rehearsal. Finally, after practicing the above exercises, rehearse aloud and record your entire opening and closing remarks, plus five minutes of your key points. Practice until the fillers are reduced to three or fewer and ideally eliminated.
If you would like to learn more about speech fluency and effective presentation skills, please read my book Well Said! Presentations and Conversations That Get Results (available in Hardcover, Kindle, and Audio).
Feel free to contact me directly to schedule an in-house corporate training event for your team. I would be honored to support your speaking success.
Read Darlene's new book,
Well Said! Presentations and Conversations That Get Results.
Ranked in the
"Top 30 Business Books for 2013"
by Soundview Executive Book Summaries
Well Said! Presentations and Conversations That Get Results
is now available in Chinese!