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How to avoid filler words and become a more effective speaker

The use of filler words is very common when we engage in a conversation or when we give a business presentation. They serve the purpose of giving us time to rearrange our ideas before we continue speaking but, unfortunately, they diminish the impact of the message we are trying to convey.

Read on to learn some tips to avoid using these words and become a more effective speaker.

What are "filler words"?

“Filler words” is a broad term used to describe speech fillers. They can be sounds, such as um…, uh…, ah…, mm…; words as basically, actually, literally; or filler phrases as I think that…, you know…, what I am trying to say is…, etc. They usually do not convey any meaning and can be suppressed without any loss.

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What is the problem with filler words?

On the one hand, filler words represent a type of verbal static, since they contribute nothing to your speech and have to be filtered by the audience. In this sense, they can become a communication barrier, especially if they are repeatedly used.

On the other hand, the abuse of filler words can damage the credibility of your speech, because they tend to be perceived as lack of preparation, lack of knowledge or lack of real passion about the topic. All of these perceptions are negative when you are trying to present a business idea or when you need to communicate the results of a business strategy.

Five tips to avoid filler words

1. First of all, it is necessary to assess how often you use filler words in your presentations. This can be achieved via three very simple methods.

  • Ask a member of the audience or a colleague to track your use of filler words and to give you feedback on the impact they have on your speech.
  • Use a voice recorder while you are speaking and evaluate your use of filler words.
  • Record a video of your presentations so you can have visual feedback on your use of filler words and the facial expressions which accompany them.

Once you have done this, make sure to evaluate not only the frequency with which you insert filler words in your speech, but also if these words are distracting or prejudicial for the credibility and clarity of your presentations.

2. It is also important to understand the reasons why you are using filler words in order to avoid them. Like it was mentioned before, these words usually give us the opportunity to rearrange ideas, but unless you are engaged in a conversation and want to signal to the other person that you have not finished speaking, they are usually meaningless.

When you are giving a presentation, it is perfectly normal to make a pause before continuing to express an idea. You do not need to fill those pauses; to stay in silence for a few seconds conveys you are thinking without giving the impression you feel anxious or unprepared.

3. Make sure you always prepare your presentations. The use of filler words tends to be inversely proportional to the amount of preparation you have on a topic; this is to say that, if you are improvising a speech, your brain will have to “create” the ideas on the fly (instead of “recuperating” them from memory), and you will feel more compelled to fill the time this takes with sounds and meaningless words. Also, lack of preparation can produce nervousness and the impulse speak faster which, in turn, will make more likely that your brain is unable to keep up with that pace.

4. When you prepare a presentation, make sure to avoid cramming it with content. Be realistic about the time constrains you have in relation to the ideas you need to present. If you force too much content on a presentation, you will be forced to speak faster and your brain will be working harder to keep up. Keeping the contents limited gives you the opportunity to slow down, therefore reducing the temptation of using filler words, and the advantage of making your speech more easily understandable for your audience.

5. Every so often monitor your progress by stepping back and performing the assessment tasks on point 1. Compare your results and keep practising these recommendations.

Final thoughts

So, there you have it, five tips which will help you to avoid using filler words and to become a more effective speaker. Remember that these sort of speech interferences are natural when we are trying to rearrange ideas, but that their abuse may damage the impression you give to your audience and the clarity of your message. Practice the tips, be patient, constant and evaluate your progress from time to time. Without a doubt, if you implement these strategies, you will stop feeling the need to use filler words, and the impact of your business presentations will improve.

As always, if you have further questions or if you would like some advice, please leave us a comment or contact us on our Facebook page. If you liked this article, then don’t hesitate to share it with your friends. 

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Andrew is the CEO and founder of the Art of Business English. Besides teaching and coaching native Spanish speakers in Business English, he is also passionate about mountain biking, sailing and healthy living. When He is not working, Andrew loves to spend time with his family and friends.

Andrew Ambrosius

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