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Uh, ah, you know, like… are all “filler” words, also known as “verbal fillers” and are a very common phenomenon. Every time someone says “um”, “ah,” “like,” “you know”, “er”, “i think”, or any other meaningless word to fill gaps in their speech, they’re using filler words. And if you listen to everyday speech, you’ll notice that everybody uses them all the time, even if they don’t always realize it. While it’s normal and okay to use them once in a while, an excessive amount of verbal fillers in both informal speech and formal presentations can distract from your message and potentially annoy your listeners.
While this post is about reducing unnecessary verbal fillers, it is important to recognize that filler words do have an important place in language. For example, they can make rejections seem less rude. If someone invites you to their birthday party, and you immediately reject them with no hesitation, it can seem incredibly rude. However, if you hesitate and soften your excuses with an apology, it will be perceived as less rude and they are less likely to be offended. Filler words also signal to others when you still have things to say, which is important if you want to collect your thoughts to move onto your next point- without being interrupted. Finally, filler words can cue someone to any uncertainty you might have about something, which can help them help you.
Nevertheless, too much of anything is bad, and this couldn’t be more true for verbal fillers. Too many um’s and ah’s can distract the audience from the message, making you seem unprofessional and unprepared. Many times, the audience members may also become annoyed at how hard it is to follow the flow of your speech with all the clutter.
By now, you may be wondering: how can you reduce the amount of useless filler words you use? According to an article from the Toastmasters website, (linked down below under “More resources”,) Toastmaster club members can enlist the help of their mentors and fellow members to remind themselves to cut back on verbal fillers. In some clubs, evaluators are asked to be extra nitpicky to speakers with their evaluations, and the speakers can also pay special attention to the Ah-Counter’s report. It’s nice to have a recording of yourself speaking to refer back to as well.
Outside of a club setting, however, you can ask close friends and family to tell you when they see you using a lot of filler words, and you can practice giving mock impromptu “speeches” and recording yourself to keep track of how many verbal fillers you say. Try your best to pause instead of using verbal fillers whenever possible. Even though pauses can seem like nerve-wracking, endless silences, they can help you better emphasize certain points and make you seem more prepared and professional.
Ultimately, if you put in enough practice, verbal fillers can quickly become scarce in your speech. And as long as you don’t pepper every other word with them, you’re good to go.
- Why do we, like, hesitate when we, um, speak? – Lorenzo García-Amaya This TED-Ed talk explains the history and controversy of filler words, as well as what role they play in our speech.
- Cutting Out Filler Words This article on the Toastmasters® gives many examples and ideas on reducing the amount of unnecessary filler words you use.
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