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.