How Speakers Can Stop Using Filler Words

Audience’s want a speech without a lot of filler
Audience’s want a speech without a lot of filler
Image Credit: -Curly-

I bet that your next speech is going to be great! You’ve got an exciting topic, your audience wants to hear what you have to say, and you’ve created a speech that virtually crackles with great content. However, you can still blow this speech and take away from the importance of public speaking. If instead of delivering a tasty speech with great content to your audience you instead provide them with a speech that is stuffed with filler words like “and”, “um”, “ah”, and even “so” then you will have failed in your attempt to win their hearts and minds. What’s are speakers to do?

What’s The Problem With Being Fluent?

So just how big of a problem is all of this use of filler words? Well first off, it’s a big enough problem that the smart people who study how we speak have given it a name: disfluencies. Studies have shown that out of every 100 words that the average person speaks, roughly 6 of them will be filler words such as “umm” and “ah”. Most of us speak at a rate of about 150 words per minute when we are giving a speech. This means that if we are not careful, we can expect to say 9 filler words per minute during a speech.

This of course leads to the natural question: why do we use filler words in the first place? There are a number of different reasons why we may use filler words. One is because as we were growing up, both our parents and our teachers conditioned us to immediately answer them when we were asked a question. As you can well imagine, often we didn’t have anything to say and when this happened, we’d look for ways to fill the uncomfortable silence. Modern researchers now believe that the filler words that we use are actually our way of trying to communicate with people. Some words may be used by us to hold onto the conversation while we try to determine what we want to say next. Other words may signal either a short or a longer pause.

So if these disfluencies are a part of the way that we speak, why should we spend any time worrying about them? It turns out that including a few disfluencies in your next speech is no big deal and it may actually make you come across as being “more human”. However, it’s when the number of disfluencies that you are using becomes distracting that you now have a problem on your hands. Additionally, if the subject that you are talking about is an important one, then any hesitancy on your part that is reflected by your use of filler words will be negatively interpreted by your audience. Your use of filler words can kill your credibility with your audience and that’s why you need to take steps in order to make them go away.

How We Get Rid Of The Filler In Our Speech?

So what’s a speaker to do about all of those filler words that seem to have taken up residence in their speech? The good news is that at least on the surface, the answer to this problem is quite simple. What you are going to want to do as a speaker is to replace the filler words in your speech with silence. That’s right, when you find yourself getting ready to say a filler word, just shut your mouth. In order to get good at doing this, take the time to record your speaking in a variety of different settings. Listen to yourself and improve your ability to detect when you are getting ready to use a filler word. This is how you can get good at replacing them with silence.

Something else that you may want to be aware of is that our use of filler words can significantly increase depending on the topic that we are talking about. When we are dealing with a sensitive topic such as sex, religion, or politics, as we try to carefully pick each and every word we may find ourselves using more and more filler words. Often times we can eliminate filler words from our speeches, but then when we are answering questions from the audience they will start to show back up.

There are two additional things that you can do that will help you to cut down on the number of filler words that you use. The first of this is to provide yourself with a simple reminder at the start of your next speech. Tell yourself that during your speech, nobody will be interrupting you. At no time will you need to signal to your audience that you have more to say. It may be surprising, but taking the time to remind yourself of this can make a big difference in the number of filler words that you use. The second thing that you can do is to add additional gestures to your speech. The people who study such things tell us that the more gestures that a speaker uses in their speech, the fewer filler words they will end up using. It’s not fully understood why there is this link, but it has been proven to exist.

What All Of This Means For You

When people show up to hear us speak, they have great expectations for what we are going to be telling them and they expect to be able to experience the benefits of public speaking. As speakers, the one thing that we really don’t want to do is to end up filling our speech with with filler words and distracting our audience from our main message. We need to become aware when we use filler words in our speeches and then we have to take steps to get rid of them.

The fancy name for filler words is disfluencies. It turns out that we all use them and in fact in a single minute of a speech we may use up to almost 10 of them. Its unclear why we use filler words. Conditioning by our parents and teachers may be part of it as well as a need to use filler words as a way to communicate with the person or people that we are talking with. The reason that removing filler words from what we are saying is so important is because if there are too many of them, then it can become distracting for our audience and they won’t be able to pay attention to what we really want to tell them. In order to get rid of filler words, speakers can try to replace them with periods of silence. We need to understand that what we are talking about may lead to us to using more filler words. Two steps that we can take to reduce the number of filler words that we use are to remind ourselves that nobody will be interrupting us during our speech and to use more hand gestures.

No, we’re never going to be able to get rid of all of the filler words that we use. However, what we can do is to take steps that will allow us to reduce the number of filler words down to something that nobody will ever notice. Being aware that we are using filler words is the first step, then taking action to get rid of them can follow. Remove filler words from your next speech and deliver only great content to your audience.

– Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World Public Speaking Skills™

Question For You: Can you think of a way that you could work filler words into your speech so it seemed like they should be there?

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Note: What we talked about are advanced speaking skills. If you are just starting out I highly recommend joining Toastmasters in order to get the benefits of public speaking. Look for a Toastmasters club to join in your home town by visiting the web site Toastmasters is dedicated to helping their members to understand the importance of public speaking by developing listening skills and getting presentation tips. Toastmasters is how I got started speaking and it can help you also!

What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

Any time that we give a speech, we’d like that speech to be remembered by our audience. In order for that to happen, we need to use the importance of public speaking to make sure that the content of our speech is something that is going to capture the attention of our audience. We all know that stories are a great way to make this happen. The big question that we need to answer is if stories are appropriate for a business speech. The good news is that they are. When we use a story to allow our audience to visualize a situation it permits them to empathize, appreciate, and identify with what we are talking about. Now all you have to do is get good at telling business stories!