Um, Like, Try These 4 Tips for Eliminating Filler Words in Public Speaking

Tuesday, October 112 min read

“Glossophobia” — also known as the fear of public speaking — is so common about 25% of people report experiencing it. For most folks, getting up in front of a group to talk probably makes them feel at least a bit anxious, and that’s why so many people fall back on filler words when speaking to groups of two, or 20, or 200 people.

Filler words are short little sounds or phrases speakers often unconsciously use when they’re thinking about what to say next. “Ah,” “Er,” “I think…,” “Just,” “Like,” “Okay,” “Uh,” “Um,” “Well,” “You Know…” all fill up space without adding any meaning to the statement. While almost everyone uses these words or phrases at some point, they can give off the perception the speaker is a poor communicator, or is unprepared to discuss the topic. How can you eliminate filler words when you’re speaking?

Tip 1: Pause

Instead of saying “um” or “okay” while you transition to the next topic, don’t be afraid to pause. Most people use filler words to avoid silence, but a speaker shouldn’t be frightened of some short pauses when talking in front of a group. While filler words can make you look disorganized, pausing to think before speaking can make you look more thoughtful and deliberate. In most cases, a pause will appear more impressive to listeners. Think of actors who pause for dramatic effect on stage. The silence is more captivating than an “um” or a “like” could ever be.

Tip 2: Slow Down

When a speaker is nervous, it’s natural to speed up and use more filler words. But faster speech patterns also make a presentation harder to understand. When speaking in front of others, remind yourself to slow down — try including a short pause after each statement to pace yourself. What may seem painfully slow to you is probably a good pace for an audience to digest your information.

Tip 3: Get Feedback

Either work with someone else or on your own to improve your public speaking skills. If you have a friend who also wants to reduce filler words, take turns giving short talks in front of each other and count the number of filler words you each use. If you’re confident, ask your friend to ring a bell or tap a spoon against a glass whenever you use a filler word during your speech. If you’re working solo, record yourself speaking and play it back to listen for the number of filler words. Note when and where you could have paused instead of uttering “ah” or “like.”

Tip 4: Practice

Practice doesn’t just make perfect — it also reduces filler words. If we use more filler words when we’re anxious, practicing a speech can help us become more confident. If you’re giving a prepared speech, you should know your topic inside and out. This will help your delivery flow more smoothly and make your words sound like second nature. It also helps to be passionate about a topic. If you know your subject well and feel confident, you’ll be less likely to turn to filler words when searching for what to say. These practiced speech patterns will start to become second nature, and you might find yourself taking pauses when answering questions and falling back less and less on those “likes” and “y’knows” in everyday banter.

Featured image credit: alvarez/ iStock

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