Back to Back Issues Page
Strategies to banish the filler words from your speech forever
November 26, 2019

In this Issue

Filler words

Go to Top

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?

For some people that 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 saying the sentence below aloud and really listen to yourself as you speak. 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 about a person based purely on their speech!

Here are two ways to find out whether you 'um and ahhh' 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 for you.

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. They're a collection of 7 very useful organizers.

For more on fillers

Andrew Dlugan's excellent evergreen 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.

Go to Top

What's new

That season of good will, hey ho merrily, whoopee, it's Christmas, is coming up fast.

Some of you will be expected to give a speech to your colleagues at the Christmas party, or it's equivalent. If you'd like a hand with that I've two pages to guide you through putting together an effective, sincere speech.

They're here: How to give a stunningly awesome Christmas speech and an example of an awesomely good office Christmas speech.

Have fun with them!

Go to Top

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 you can find on Pinterest too!

Until next time,
Happy speaking,


Go to Top

Back to Back Issues Page