When speaking in casual conversation, we often interject fillers into our speech. Fillers are sounds, words and phrases that contain no real meaning, but are often used to keep one’s speech flowing. Some of the most commonly used fillers are sounds like “um” and “uh”; single words such as “like”, “right?”, “well” and “maybe”; and phrases such as “you know” and “I mean”. Using too many fillers can create the impression that you are unsure of yourself, or not knowledgeable about the topic on which you are speaking.
I recently had the experience of interviewing several candidates for a position in my company. In particular, two candidates stood out from the rest; not because they brought any particular expertise or professional skill to the table, but because their excessive use of filler words muddled their communication. In addition to sounding unsure of themselves and projecting a lack of professional competence, it was difficult to even understand exactly what it was these candidates had to offer. The constant fillers and unnecessary interjections created unclear speech and a convoluted message. Even though these candidates may have been as qualified as the others, they were immediately eliminated based on their inefficient communication alone.
Taking the time to recognize and reduce the number of filler words you use is a simple, but important step in improving your speech. Old habits are hard to break, and it may take time to eliminate filler words from your vocabulary completely, but the more professional, confident speech you will produce is well worth the effort.
I take a four-step approach to reducing filler words.
This week, we’ll discuss the first step in this process: Awareness.
Before you can take steps to reduce your filler words, you must first be aware of them. One great way to do this is to record yourself as you speak. Use a tape recorder and speak about a topic on which you are comfortable and knowledgeable. For example, talk about what you do in a typical day of work or where you went and what you did on your last vacation. Try to speak as naturally as possible, as though you were speaking to a colleague. Tape record yourself for one to two minutes.
As you listen to your recording, count how many filler words you used. You should be using no more than one filler word per minute; if you use filler words more frequently than this, you risk distracting your audience and confusing your message. After you’ve identified your filler words, take a moment and jot down the sentences in which they were used. Then take a moment to say these sentences aloud with the filler words removed. Note the difference between the two sentences, and how the sentence with no filler words sounds stronger, more professional, and more confident.
Next week, we’ll discuss the second step of our filler word reduction process: Recognizing your personal patterns.
For more ideas on how to reduce filler words, click the following link watch an interview in which I speak about my strategies for filler word management: http://corporatespeechsolutions.com/services-clear-pronunciation-speech-improvement.php