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[Speaking-Out-Loud February 2016] Ways to zap the fillers - um, err, yeah and like.
February 26, 2016

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Filler words

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Um, Err, Like, Yeah, You Know, Eh, Uh, Like, Yeah, Um...
How to kill those filler words

Have you ever been put on the spot and asked to say a few words with little or no preparation?

It can be enough to cause an outbreak of the dreaded speech fillers.

Those ums and ahhs are called disfluencies because they break the fluency or smooth flow of speech.

In a situation where you are the focus of everyone's attention (either formal or informal), disfluencies weaken what you have to say. Their presence sends signals to your audience that you may be feeling:

  • anxious - you don't feel comfortable being looked at or having people waiting expectantly for what you have to say
  • unsure - not completely confident about what you have to share for any number of what could be perfectly valid reasons
  • or a mixture of both.

Regardless of the underlying cause an excess of disfluencies or fillers undermines your message.

Let's do a test

Try the sentence below aloud and really listen to yourself. Do you believe what you're saying?

(The bold words are the heart of the communication. The rest you can do without.)

"Yeah, well, um, I'd just like to say, um, like, you know, I think this is, um, a great opportunity and um, yeah, you know, like I can't wait to get started."

Diagnosing fillers

How do you know if you've got a bad case of fillers? It's not the sort of thing that many people will tell you about. Generally it's considered rude, poor form, to comment on another person's habitual speech patterns. Nevertheless that doesn't stop us from making judgments!

Here are two ways to find out for yourself.

1. Record yourself

Use a voice recorder to capture unrehearsed speech segments. The easiest way to do this is to ask yourself questions like:

  • What do you like about your present job?
  • Where would you like to be in five years time?
  • What's your favorite thing to do on a Sunday afternoon?

Listen to your answers and take note of the fillers.

2. Ask a friend or trusted colleague to count them.

Tell them you're on a mission to reduce the number of fillers you use in your everyday or unrehearsed speech and that you'd like them to note every instance they hear one over a specified time. Five or ten minutes should be enough.

This will give you a list of your habitual phrases or disfluencies, and the frequency of their use.

Your score might look like this:

  • "Like" - 5
  • "Um" - 6
  • "I dunno" - 3
  • "Well, actually" - 4

Cutting them out

Now that you know what you do, how do you STOP using fillers?

As you become more conscious of what you are actually saying, rather than what you think you are saying you will quite naturally start to substitute fillers for fluency.

A method I find useful is to pause. Take a breath. Give yourself a moment of silence to gather your thoughts before speaking.

To speed your progress give yourself regular conscious practice. Here's a bunch of impromptu public speaking topics to get you started. Record yourself. Five minutes a day for a week will make a huge difference. Keep those recordings. To monitor your progress, after a couple of days replay the first few recordings you made and compare them to the most recent.

For more on structuring and presenting your thoughts well check these impromptu speaking templates. You'll find a collection of useful organizers.

For more on fillers

Andrew Dlugan's excellent 2009 post on Filler words in public speaking - Are… um… Filler Words… ah… Okay?. It attracted a lot of useful and interesting comments from public speakers.

A definition of filler words with examples from's grammar and composition expert Richard Nordquist.

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What's new

Help! What interactive activities do you use with large audiences?

My friend Teri Yanovitch ( is a regular and sought after keynote speaker on customer service. She would like to know what interactive activities have you found stimulating and successful with audiences of 100 plus. Perhaps you've been a participant. Or maybe you've been the speaker and used something special to involve your audience.

Do you have suggestions? Can you help?

Teri and I have been chatting about this and we decided to include you in the discussion. We thought multiple heads would be better than two and we're looking forward to hearing what you have to say.

Please send your suggestions in by replying to this email. Thank you. If there's enough interest we'll share your recommended activities in the next newsletter.

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And now some inspiration

I love finding articles I want to share! Here's the first of three: The Interrupted Story: One Way to Tell a Story in a Speech. Speaker Christopher Witt outlines a technique I am going to have to try.

Secondly, English writer Neil Gaiman on Why our future depends on libraries, reading and daydreaming.

And the last of three - presentation expert Carmine Gallo Talk Like TED: The 9 Public-Speaking Secrets of the World's Top Minds. This is a video of an hour long presentation given to Microsoft research staff. Fascinating - and well worth watching.

Comment, share & connect

If you've got comments, feedback or questions you're most welcome to contact me through my about me page.

If you liked this issue of Speaking-Out-Loud, please feel free to send it on to any friends or family. The site url to forward so they can subscribe is Speaking-Out-Loud.

And I'd love to see you on's face book page too.

Until next time,
Happy speaking,


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