top of page

Do You Say Uhm? How To Stop Using Filler Words And Clarify Your Message

Using filler words like uhh, and uhh distract from you message and can reduce your credibility and authority. Learn how you can stop saying uhm. Read the blog post or listen to episode 24 of Camera Ready With Val Brown

Ummm, can I ask you a quick question? Do you say uhm, er, uh, like a lot when you are speaking or making a presentation?

It’s okay, you can say yes. WE all do. It’s normal to pause in between thoughts and use uhms, ers, and other filler words.

It’s when you use too many of them it interferes with your effectiveness in delivering your message.

It also makes your listeners work harder to hear what you have to say. They have to filter through your filler words to get the content you want them to pay attention to.

And, when you are delivering a message about an important project at work, or your service that will change lives, that's a distraction you can do without.

When I first started public speaking the filler phrase, "it’s like you know" was one of my favorite go to phrases.

Writing this blog reminded me of my days as a speech communication major in college and a technique my professor, Mr. Stewart used to get us to quit saying uhm.

As part of the course, we all had to stand up in front of the class and give an extemporaneous speech on a business topic.

Mr. Stewart would sit in the back of the class with his clip board and grading sheet and stroke his beard. Every time you said uh, he would drop a marble in a tin bucket.

That loud, jarring thunk when the marble hit bottom was deafening. And while it was embarrassing IT REALLY helped me be aware of how many times I said uh, uhh, like and you know.

Here’s the good news for anyone who uhms too much; it’s not hard to overcome using filler words, it just takes a little awareness, patience and practice to develop new habits.

Once you become aware of where of when you are using filler words, you can take steps to stop.

Why do we use filler words?

Well, there’s a variety of reasons.

According to a research from the University of Missouri, the average rate of speech is 125 words per minute, yet we think exponentially faster than that at around 400 words per minute.

Since we think faster than we talk, it takes awhile for the delivery system to catch up with the production system. Using filler words, lets our mind and mouth synch up.

And because there is a disparity between how fast we think and how fast we speak, a pause can seem (at least to us) a lot longer than it seems to our audience. This leads us feel like we need to say something to fill the silence.

We may also tend to use more filler words when we are not well prepared and familiar with our material. Filler words give us time think about what we want to say next.

And it’s a sort of a vicious circle, when we are not well prepared, we have a tendency to be more nervous, than if we were familiar with our material - and then we use more filler words.

In addition to uhm, and uh, we use words like like, so, totally, literally, and surely to fill space while we are waiting for our and mouth and our mind to get on the same page.

Which leads me to my second point, using some filler words is natural in conversation and quite frankly, it’s human.

I don’t advocate that you eliminate them completely - the goal is to be natural and authentic on camera. Focusing too much on eliminating filler words can make you appear wooden and over rehearsed.

However, overuse of filler words can make you sound less confident or sure of yourself and distract from your message.

And when filler words fill your delivery, they can undermine your credibility and authority.

Think about when you watch someone on TV and every other word is uhm or uh, do you think they know what they are talking about? How long will you stay interested in what they have to say?

Another reason we use filler words is it’s a way to hold the floor while so someone else won’t step in and take over. It’s a way to say, wait, I still have more to say.

Used to the extreme, fillers become a sort of verbal white noise that the brain has to filter out to get to the meat of the message. When you are delivering a message about your service or one that will change lives, that’s a distraction you can do without.

What can you do to stop using filler words?

The first step is to become aware of when and how often you use them. The easiest way to do this is to record yourself and then review your recording. If it’s easier, you can also ask a friend or trusted colleague to pay attention to how often you use filler words and have them give you constructive feedback.

After you have identified your filler words (mine are and and so), then you can work to reduce or eliminate them. Once you’ve reviewed your tape try these techniques:

1. Slow down. This increases the likelihood that your brain and mouth are working together. Remember to breath and use pauses between sentences. Pauses are a very effective way to let what you’ve just said sink in.

2. Be familiar with your material. When your brain knows where you are going next, it won’t need the filler words to give it time to catch up. It also has the added benefit of keeping your nerves in check because you know what you are going to say.

3. Write in shorter sentences, group your ideas and use pauses. You can create a nice delivery rhythm by doing this.

When you are done with an idea, pause before moving forward. This has a two fold benefit. One, you are recalibrating your mind and your mouth and two, you are creating a sense of anticipation about what you are going to say next.

What I like about doing this is it helps with pacing AND I only focus on one group of ideas at a time. It really helps me to speak with intention. Having some transition phrases such as moving on to our next topic to help you stay on target.

I have to share a great tip I learned from one of my mentors - and it really works. When you take a pause after delivering an idea - close your mouth. When you close your mouth, it’s really hard to say uhm. Go ahead, try it and see for yourself!

And as always in your quest to improve your on camera skills, recording yourself is the best way to identify areas you are doing well and areas you can improve. The nice thing about this exercise is you can look back at early recordings see a noticeable improvement.

Summing It Up

1. We use filler words because…..

  • Our brain thinks faster than we speak - filler words allow our mind and mouth to synch up.

  • When we are not familiar with our material we use filler words to give ourselves time to think about where we are going next. Filler words are also more common when we are nervous, so being prepared can help with that.

2. When we use too many filler words

  • Our listeners have to filter out the vocal white noise to get to the message we are delivering

  • And It diminishes our ability to appear confident and lowers our credibility and authority

3. We can learn to eliminate or significantly reduce our use of filler words by

  • recording ourselves and monitoring our filler words

  • slowing down our delivery to let our mind and mouth synch up

  • be familiar with our content, practice and know what you are going to say

  • write in short sentences, group your thoughts, use pauses and plan for your transitions.

  • Close your mouth when you pause and it’s near impossible to say uhh!

Okay, that’s all for today. Thanks for stopping by. Next week my guest is Emmy award winning documentary producer, and director Kenneth Kebow. Ken is going to share his production secrets for creating amazing looking videos on a budget and his lots of his production secrets that I don’t even know. And then on the following blog he’s going to take us behind the scenes and talk about his process for creating award winning stories that connect..

Until then, remember, with a little practice, patience and some well timed pauses, you can stop saying uhm on camera, every time.

Val Brown is an Emmy Award winning television producer, story, visual and personal brand consultant, coach, and speaker. She consults and coaches high performing business professionals and entrepreneurs looking to up their game and increase their confidence and credibility on camera. Val teaches you how to use your story to support your brand in video and photos. 

p.s. I’d love to connect on social media and hear your questions and concerns about being in front of the camera.


Featured Posts
Search By Tags
  • LinkedIn Social Icon
  • Facebook Basic Square
  • Twitter Basic Square
bottom of page