This blog post was also featured at Lifehack.org.
When I started work as a Disc Jockey at the age of twenty, my spiels were full of “ums,” “likes,” and “aahs” so my supervisor called my attention to solve the problem as soon as possible.
Today, when I attend business seminars and meetings, I always encounter professionals unconsciously using these filler words. When “um,” “ahh,” “you know,” and “like” are used once or twice, there’s no issue at all. In fact, it makes people sound like they studied their words more carefully before speaking. The problem arises when people keep repeating them; this kills their credibility and makes them sound like a teenage school girl instead of a professional.
Use speech rhythm.
You ramble, or use unstudied speech when you don’t plan and organize your talk. When you organize your thoughts and points prior to delivering a talk, you will speak better. Presentation and speech improvement trainer Ritchelle Blanco Dejolde, recommends that you chunk your sentences before speaking them, then pause for a while. Dejolde says, “Chunking your sentences will help you create a rhythm in your talk: spoken words/ then break/spoken words/ another break. Maintain that rhythm and your “aahs” and “um’s” will fly away or at least you minimize using them.”
One of the first things I learned when I was training as a broadcaster was to record myself and listen intently on how I generally deliver speeches. It’s painful, excruciatingly painful to do this, but it’s absolutely necessary. To listen to your own voice and hear yourself committing mistakes while talking in front of a crowd is, to me, one of the most difficult part of my training as a broadcaster. Do this, listen well and study yourself, and the fillers you often use; you’ll cringe when you notice how frequently you express them. The moment you are conscious of those speech crutches, you will be more careful next time you address an audience. That’s the key: awareness. When you’re mindful of an error, admit that you commit it, then you’re on your way to correct it.
Replace your “ums” and “likes” with pre-planned transitional fillers.
When you say “um” you are telling your audience you are gathering your thoughts and that your train of thought is not yet finished. A better alternative is to get ready with transitional phrases. Instead of saying “um” say “moving on,” or “why don’t we talk about,” or “another important point is…” When you start applying this lesson, you’ll feel a bit of a fake, but as you practice using these transitional phrases, they will start to sound more natural. You can apply the tip (recording yourself) before this while practicing and you’ll be on your way to polish your speaking skills.
Establish an intimate rapport.
They say the eyes are the windows to a man’s soul. Applying this in public speaking, make eye contact through out your speech and you will minimize using filler words. Why? It’s awkward to say “um” when you lock in a sincere eye contact with an individual. Experiment in your next seminar or meeting; position your body and gaze directly onto your audience giving it your most engaging attention. During a conference call, don’t stare at the window or the wall blankly, or pace the room unconsciously. Instead, check your script or notes. Basically, live audience, on-line, or on the phone, your fillers will come out lesser.
In no time, with these effective strategies and with constant practice, I was able to lessen using fillers. Apply them in your talks and pretty soon, you will eradicate those credibility stealers from your speech.