“You can speak well if your tongue can deliver the message of your heart.”
John Ford, Film Director
Let’s imagine you are up on stage; your voice is prepared, yet you are still feeling nervous. You start speaking and get to the end of your first sentence, but you lose track of your position in your notes. Your first response is ‘Ummmm…’
Even seasoned speakers are not immune to the effect of fillers. These can be sounds (“ummmm”, “ahhhhh”), repetition of words (“like, something”, “like, something else”), or phrases (“…you know?”). It goes without saying, but they will impact upon your audience’s uptake of your message.
So how do you reduce your own use of filler words?
Some people start and finish speaking before their brain has even processed what they are trying to say. The majority of people speak rapidly when they’re nervous or excited, which means they employ the use of fillers when they run out of steam and lose track of their thoughts.
The trick is to slow down, relax, and articulate. When you speak slowly and steadily, you need fewer empty words to fill the gaps. As a bonus, the audience can then more actively comprehend what you are saying.
USE SILENCE TO YOUR ADVANTAGE
Some people have a problem with pauses, as they fear it will decrease their momentum. But pausing once in a while is better than struggling to find the right words. A tiny pause between key sections of your speech gives your audience time to understand you, and it can be harnessed to build intensity.
TRY CHUNKING YOUR WORDS
An effective way to reduce useless phrases is to practice chunking. This tactic involves breaking down your speech into shorter sentences, then following each chunk with pauses. This will ensure you are not falling into the trap of using filler words to join sentences together.
PREPARE FOR TRANSITIONS
This method can be used irrespective of the size of the audience by creating a small list of phrases that signify transition or change.
Traditionally, filler words signify to the audience “I need time to think”, so by using phrases such as “Moving on to …” or “Let us consider …”, you can buy yourself time to verbalize your thoughts.
LISTEN TO YOUR SPEECHES AND PRACTICE
Record your speech, or get a friend to act as an audience and take notes. Play back your speech, or read your friend’s notes and analyze your use of static words. When you identify your problem areas, finding solutions becomes easier.
Whilst practicing your speech, substitute filler words with silence or transitional phrases. When you know your speech inside-out, you will be more confident—and less likely to stumble over the right words.
What actions will you take to prevent using an excess amount of filler words in your next presentation?