Control This Little Bad Habit to Be a Better Speaker

When we control the urge to fill up silence with useless filler words we become a better speaker.  Photo Credit

When we control the urge to fill up silence with useless filler words we become a better speaker. Photo Credit

Have you ever counted another person’s filler words when they speak? Of course you have! Haven't you? Or, am I just a horrible person? Okay, don't answer that. Anyway, I was counting someone's filler words last week. I didn't know what the person was talking about because I was so distracted tallying up the number of 'ums' in my head.  But, what I do know is that one of the easiest ways to improve your speaking skills is to focus on eliminating useless little filler words from your vocabulary. This is a relatively quick fix, as long as this is your problem. And, guess what? This is almost everyone's problem.  Why? Because we don’t like silence much. And, rather than think and process our next words silently, we start uttering nonsensical um, uh, ah, right, like, I mean, and okay, you know, when we just need to shut the hell up.   

A sprinkling of filler words are fine, but when you do it excessively, people get distracted. People get impatient and want you to get to the point. They may interrupt you, or overlook your key points. Others may perceive that you're unprepared or that you don't have a good grasp of the topic. Over time, your good work and potential can go unnoticed. Yikes!  You work too hard to let this bad habit get in the way of you being a badass.  Whether it's meetings, presentations, product demos or a conference, you can learn how to be a better public speaker.Your Office Mom has three suggestions to help you identify your problem and do something about it um, like, ah, right now, you know? ;)

1.  Make a recording

The first step to breaking the habit is to know which filler word or words you use, and when you use them.  It will only take about 3 or 4 minutes of your recorded voice speaking about a work topic or explaining a process you know well to get an idea of how you sound to others in meetings and presentations. Take the time to record something you might typically discuss at work like a project update or a recent presentation. Once you hear the frequency of your filler words, you may be surprised (or mortified) and propelled to act.

2.  Slow down when you talk

Many people who use filler words talk fast. If you are the enthusiastic type this could be you. Or, you may be uber task focused and talk fast so you can get back to work. When responding to questions you may speak before formulating the full answer in your head.  A slower pace is your answer. Stop and take a breath between sentences. Know what you are going to say before you say it. Don't be afraid of silence. Pauses are your friend.

3.  Be better prepared

You may know your job inside and out but stumble all over your words when talking about it. You can alleviate this problem if you follow these tips to prepare for meetings, speeches and significant interactions.  Here's how:

  • Have a concise sentence or two drafted about your update, so you have a strong start. “I want to share highlights from this week about _____, and _____ and review an issue we had with _____.”

  • Have a list of your key talking points that you can refer to in logical order. You can mark them off your list in your head as you go - that activity can become your “um” pause.

  • If you have a tendency to fade away at the end, have a strong summary or closing sentence.

  • Don’t ever be shy about having notes as back-up. You don't want to rely on them to the point it's obvious you didn't prepare or practice in advance, but if it helps you speak more concisely that's a win-win.

What have you tried to eliminate filler words? Do you have any tips for others?