U is for UM, AH and ER

filler wordsFillers words and sounds like, “um, ah, er” sap the power from your presentation.

A Gallop Poll Communication Survey revealed that the use of filler words such as, “and, um, like, you know”, annoyed 69% of people surveyed.

What are “filler words” or “Verbal pauses” ? Words and sounds that don’t add anything to your message. They are often uttered while gathering your next thought. The problem with them is they undermine your message. They steal your thunder. They cause you to appear and sound less confident. President Hubert Humphrey (barely memorable) did a TV interview. He uttered, “I believe” 31 times in 40 minutes. He was forgettable – for the wrong reason. See the story below about how verbal fillers may have cost a Kennedy the presidential nomination. 

Filler words, verbal pauses, are serious business!  How can we be rid of them?U is for UM, AH and ER

Here is what the evolution of eradicating “verbal pauses” from your speech looks like:

  1. First, you don’t realize you realize how many you use
  2. Once made aware, you notice them after you’ve uttered them 
  3. Then you recognize you are about to say one and don’t
  4. Then the glorious day comes when they are so eliminated from your pattern of speech they rarely escape your lips.

Becoming aware is the first step.

Three ways to become more aware:

1) Record yourself when you give speeches and listen to the tape.

2) Ask a friend/colleague to listen for your filler words.

3) Join Toastmasters. Toastmaster meetings have “ah counters” that count filler words and report their findings to you.

Once aware of your fillers, replace them with a pause. To YOU the pause may seem forever, but to your audience it’s brief and powerful.

Filler words/verbal pauses come in a HUGE variety. Here are some more:

  • ok
  • you know
  • and
  • basically
  • so
  • but
  • like

False Starts

I JUST learned about false starts from a fellow Toastmaster, who belonged to a club that counted these along with filler words/verbal pauses.  A false start is when you start a sentence, stop, and start it again, or start elsewhere. The first time he gave a report when he served as the ah counter, I was SHOCKED when he reported I had four false starts during a talk.  It’s like a series of second thoughts on what you just uttered.  It is a series of incomplete sentences and thoughts.  I catch myself doing them ALL time – especially when talking one-on-one!  It is best to complete your thought before moving on to another!






“Why do you want to be president?” a reporter asked Ted Kennedy. His answer filled nearly two-thirds of a page of the news magazine, and he did not answer the question. His many fillers were recorded for all to read. Because he could not answer the question, it was said that he lost the possible nomination for presidency. Brevity is powerful. If he had just said, “I want to give back to the country that has given me so much. For that reason, I want to serve the American people to the best of my ability as their President.” His answer would have been perceived as sincere, patriotic, brief and to the point.

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