Reducing filler words

Do you notice when a presenter uses words in his/her presentations such as ah, um, or you know? These are called filler words. Do you know you may have filler words and you simply don't know it?

Imagine a faucet dripping slowly, but consistently throughout the night. Eventually, in the middle of the night, you wake up and you hear the drip, drip, drip. At first, the drip seems quiet and subdued, but as you attempt to go back to sleep, those occasional drips becomes louder, and louder and louder. Eventually they sound like 16-lb bowling balls dropping on the floor next to your bed. Boom! Boom! Boom!

Similarly, filler words may go totally unnoticed. They are so commonplace that most people ignore them. They're simply not conscious of them, but eventually you begin to notice them. It is just like waking up in the middle of the night with a drip, drip, drip. Filler words may not be particularly distracting or noticeable at first, if they are limited and you are not sensitized to them. Nevertheless, when you wake up to these filler words, just like the drips, they will get more and more distracting.

I've know this person for many years. We were both in a multilevel marketing company and he was one of the major leaders in the company. As I remember back, I thought he gave great presentations. He was one of the best speakers I had known. I recently saw him giving a business presentation. Still confident, a sharp dresser, and a marvelous speaker —except for you know, you know, you know. After just a few short minutes, I lost my focus on his message as I began to count how many times he said you know.

Again, do you use filler words and are you aware of it? If not, that's okay because you are not alone. Many paid speakers use filler words simply because they are not aware that they do. I listened one time to an elected official. Within 5 minutes of a 20-minute presentation, this person had more than 100 ahs. Though this person seemed to have good content, I lost my concentration because I was distracted by the filler words. Before joining Toastmasters (a worldwide organization dedicated to helping members to develop their communications and leadership skills), I was not aware of my numerous ahs and ums until a friend of mine, who was in Toastmasters, told me. I joined Toastmasters in 1991 and to date; no one in my club has beaten me. I have been the Ah Champion since 1991 when I had more than 25 filler words in less than 2 minutes.

If you give presentations or otherwise speak in public and you use filler words, members of the audience can be distracted from your message. Then what can you do to reduce your filler words? First, become aware of others who have distracting filler words. Evaluate the speaker when you attend a conference or when you attend a presentation at work. You can also count the filler words of those on TV. As you become conscious of others using filler words, you will have a tendency to hear yourself using them. Eventually, you will become sensitize to your own filler words.

Consider joining Toastmasters. We have what we call a TAG team: T stands for Timer while G indicates the Grammarian. Guess what the A signifies? The Ah counter. This person counts the ahs and other filler words during the meeting and gives a report at the end of the meeting. Though I do not recommend this method, some clubs ring a bell or drop a nail in a bucket each time a speaker says an ah or another filler word. I believe that method is itself distracting, but you do become aware of the filler words you use.

In conclusion, become of others using filler words. Then, you will become aware of your own filler words. Once you become sensitized to your own filler words, your usage will be significantly reduced. Joining Toastmasters will be beneficial in reducing, and perhaps, eliminating your ahs and other filler words.



Frank A.

Communications Skills Specialist and Instructor

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