How to reduce filler words

A common habit among speakers is the use of filler words. Even newscasters and celebrities giving interviews have been known to rely on filler words. However, using too many of these words detracts from your message and downgrades your image.

Although you may have your own personal crutch phrases, here’s a list of common filler words and phrases:

  • Um
  • Uh
  • Hm
  • So
  • And
  • But
  • Like
  • You know
  • Well
  • Oh
  • Basically
  • Just
  • Actually
  • Yeah
  • OK
  • Right
  • Sure

Why do people use filler words?

People use filler words to cover gaps in their speech. Most often, people do this to buy time while they’re thinking of what to say. They feel uncomfortable with silent pauses and are afraid others are too. The speaker utters a sound, word, or phrase to indicate that they haven’t finished their statement.

Occasionally, a speaker may use filler words to prevent another person from interrupting them during a pause. By keeping the sound going, again, the speaker indicates that they haven’t finished speaking.

How to reduce your use of filler words

You don’t have to set a goal of completely eliminating all filler words from your speech. If you overuse such terms, you can work on reducing them. There are a few ways you can do this.

1. Get comfortable with silence

If you fear that you’ll appear “dumb” or lose your audience’s interest if you stop talking briefly, don’t worry. If anything, going silent draws people’s attention back to you.

This is a trick teachers sometimes use to regain control of a classroom. When the shouting doesn’t work, they completely stop talking until the room quiets down.

Imagine if a comedian or speaker onstage suddenly stopped talking. You’d probably pay even more attention, waiting for them to start talking again, right?

2. Inhale at the end of a statement

It’s very difficult to make any sounds while you’re inhaling. Try to get in the habit of taking a silent breath when you come to the end of a sentence. Use that inhalation time to formulate your next sentence.

3. Use mental punctuation

When you get to a natural pause in your speech, try to say “comma,” “period,” etc., silently. This can remind you to stop making sounds until you start your next phrase or sentence.

4. Restate questions or comment on questions

If you’re answering a bunch of tough questions, such as during an interview, it can be tempting to fill the gap between someone’s question and your answer. You don’t want to appear to be ignoring the question or to not have anything worthwhile to say. Instead of relying on filler words, you can try restating the question. For example:

  • Interviewer: When was the last time you disagreed with your boss? How did you handle it?
  • You: The last time I disagreed with my boss was …

An alternative is to make comments on the question without restating the question. For example:

  • You: That’s an interesting question.
  • You: Wow, I’ll have to think about that for a moment.

5. Practice impromptu speaking

When you practice impromptu speaking regularly with a group such as The Mouthfuls, you’ll get better at coming up with fast responses. This skill will greatly reduce your need to rely on filler words.

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