Even the most adroit of writers and the most adept of public speakers are not immune to the trap of filler words. These are the “ums, likes, wells, and uhhhs” of your vocabulary. These (not really) words might fall out of your mouth when you don’t know what to say, or you’re trying to remember something. But if you really want to get your point across, it’s time to train yourself to cut out the filler words and embrace silence.
Step 1: Record
They’re basically a nervous tic, so do you even realize how often you’re using filler words? Try recording yourself to find out. Whether you prefer a voice recorder, or you want to go all out with a video, this is an instance where it helps to listen to yourself talk.
If you hear how you use filler words, it can be a wake-up call. Maybe you think you only use filler words once in a while, while in reality “like” is coming out of your mouth every other word. That’s why they’re such a problem — they’re the white noise of everyday speech. You don’t realize how present filler words are until you pay special attention to them.
Recording or taking a video of yourself can show you not only how much you use them, but also where in your speech they tend to appear. Maybe you expect to hear yourself say “like” every few words, but your real hangup is starting every sentence with “ok, so.”
Step 2: Rewind
Once you have identified your personal speech habits, the next step is to work on cutting them out. If it seems overwhelming to attempt to get rid of them all at once, pick one that you know you use often and work on eliminating that one first.
Pinpoint where you use it in your daily speech. When you catch that “um” in the middle of your sentence or start off with “well,” rewind. Pause, take a deep breath, and use the time to think without feeling the pressure to speak. Feel free to tell the person you’re talking to that you need to think for a moment if you’re worried about seeming rude.
Get comfortable with that silence, then go back and say what you mean without the clutter.
Step 3: Reiterate
Once you start to see the fillers filtering out of your vocabulary, raise the stakes. If you’ve been practicing with friends, or with yourself in the mirror, it’s time to branch out. Try a more formal or professional setting.
If you go to a conference or business event, make a point to strike up a few conversations and talk to people with your new and improved speech patterns. Maybe they won’t notice, but it’s just as likely you’ll stand out to them. Potential employers and professional connections will notice a good communicator when they hear one.
These days, it’s rare to meet someone who speaks without fillers. Even high-profile communicators use them. While people may not judge you too harshly for using filler words, they may be impressed by their absence.
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