So..umm..you begin speaking and err… you lose track of your thought or umm… you are thinking of the right word to use.
And getting stuck right at the start ruins your entire presentation. Not that umm… and err.. wouldn’t matter if it came in the middle of it.
Fillers in our communication are like weeds that grow unwanted and most of the times creep in without even trying!
In this post, you will learn identify a whole range of filler words, reasons why they are bad and tips on how to eliminate them forever from your communication.
Let’s get started!
WHAT ARE FILLERS?
Any words that you use as a crutch to fill the void of silence is a filler.
Fillers come in a lot of different forms – sometimes we dont even realise that we’ve used one!
They could be sounds like – umm, err, uh, ah, hmm
Or words – so, like, basically, probably, apparently, actually, maybe
Or even phrases – you know, I mean, you see, stuff like that, and stuff, I suppose, I think
Sometimes they come as a double whammy – maybe umm.., so err.., okay mmm..
And using a whole lot of them can make you sound odd!
WHY DO FILLERS APPEAR?
So we know that fillers are bad and we’ve identified them. Yet, how do they end up in our speech?
You will be surprised to know that sometimes we use fillers just as an unconscious habit and not really because we need one.
Here are a few reasons why we use fillers:
– You are thinking of what to say next: This is the most common reason why we go into filler mode.
Unless, you have a speech memorised, it is normal to take a second to gather your thoughts. But it’s not good when you plug that second with a filler – all the time!
– You are uncomfortable with silence: We have been told that fluency in communication is important to appear confident. And hence we become completely intolerant to pauses.
So while we ponder over our next thought, we skip the silence by filling it with a sound or a word or a phrase. And that’s how fillers become a part of our speech.
– You are looking for the right word to say: When we aren’t fluent in a language or can’t think of a word, again – we resort to fillers to fill the silence.
This is more common because of the unfamiliarity with the language which makes us stop frequently to gather our thoughts.
– You are unprepared: Fillers are more common in impromptu situations where the spotlight is put on us without notice.
Even otherwise, being called up on to share your views at the end of a meeting can be another common situation.
– You are nervous: Sometimes we know what we want to say, we may have even prepared for it but our nervousness gets the better of us.
The pressure of doing well and the anxiety of speaking in front of people makes us lean on fillers for the much needed emotional support.
WHY ARE FILLERS SO BAD?
So what is so wrong about pausing for thought? When used occasionally, nothing!
We are all humans and sometimes need a minute!
However, it’s a real problem when you lean on them too much.
In fact, those unwanted expressions ruin the impact of what you want to say.
And this can have serious repercussions! Here are some:
– Fillers undermine your confidence and authority and it can have a really debilitating effect if you are manager a team looks up to
– Fillers make you sound uncertain. Nobody sure of himself/herself used umm..errr every 2 sentences
– Fillers also clearly reveal that you are nervous (or distracted)
– Fillers heavily distract from your core message. Imagine trying to motivate your team uncertainly with a liberal use of fillers!
– Fillers obstruct your rhythm of speech and voice modulation.
– Fillers reduce the chances of a buy-in from your listeners
– Fillers reduce the extent to which your audience engages with your message
– Fillers make your speech cognitively taxing on listeners – losing you the attention of your audience
HOW TO ELIMINATE FILLERS?
TIP #1: BE AWARE
Awareness can help you win over the crutch words you use.
One of the bigger challenges with fillers is that we use them unconsciously.
So becoming aware of the extent of the problem is half the battle won before you start to get rid of them!
Here are a few things that you can do to create awareness:
1. Video/audio record yourself – This is the easiest way to listen to yourself. Just leave the voice recorder on your phone on, especially during your talking parts of the meeting.
At the end of it you will have your voice in real time.
Replaying it, with a pen and paper to note down observations, will help you understand not just the frequency of the crutch words you use but the which ones do you use.
You might also find only some patches where you leaned heavily on fillers. Try and figure out what parts were they and think of the reasons.
2. Ask friends/colleagues to watch out: If your habit of using the fillers is especially chronic, enlist the help of people around you to point it out.
Sometimes, we use fillers unconsciously and even in informal speaking – and having others watch out for you will be a huge help.
3. Click/clap technique: You can ask people around you to click their fingers or clap every time you use a filler. The sound just becomes an anchor to remember not to use them.
In fact, the anticipation of this sound can make you resist using fillers because the sound comes to represent a sort of a reprimand that you want to avoid.
TIP #2: JUST PAUSE
This might be easier said than done but trust me!
This will not just help eliminate fillers but also add more gravitas to your communication. Pauses have the power to do that.
A pause seems longer to us than to the listeners since we think faster than we speak. So pause instead of using a filler.
HBR analysed 4000 speaking samples in their database and here are some of the observations:
Research suggests that most conversational speech consists of short (0.20 seconds), medium (0.60 seconds), and long (over 1 second) pauses.
Great public speakers can pause for even 2-3 seconds since they can confidently carry it off. The phonetic data in the research shows that we do not pause enough.
A few good reasons to pause and how that helps you:
– Helps you collect thoughts: Joey’s “smell the fart acting” so funnily yet accurately demonstrates this concept. And if you do it right, you’ll only appear intense and not stuck!
– Helps calm your nerves: If you watch the winning speeches from the World Championship of Public Speaking, you’ll know what I am talking about.
Most contestants begin with a long pause as they scan the audience. It’s a world championship and the stakes are high.
So it’s a great idea to take them time to calm down rather then jump right in
– In the right situations, pauses help build suspense! After you’ve asked a question, it helps create anticipation.
And these tricks only enhance your message.
– Pauses make you sound confident and in control. Contrary to our impulse to fill every silence, we actually appear more composed when we let the silence stand.
It makes us project confidence and stand out!
TIP #3: PREPARE WELL
This is one of the best ways to avoid being ambushed by filler words.
Being well versed with the flow, the examples, the main points of your presentation – will help you start from a position of confidence.
Rehearse key bits of your presentation so that you know how exactly you are going to deliver them.
You might fumble for a word or two but overall it’s going to make a huge difference.
TIP #4: WORK ON YOUR LANGUAGE SKILLS
In my experience, one of the very common reasons – especially in India – why we fumble in our communication is our lack of English speaking skills.
You might argue that one doesn’t have to be an expert in English to speak well!
But really think about it!
A big reason why we pause and insert filler words is our inability to express ourselves in English sentences or think of words that we need in order to complete the thought.
This is fertile ground for fillers to breed and all the resulting ill-effects to badly impact our communication.
Spending time to improve your communication and speak English just like you speak your mother tongue will only be a huge way to leave the fillers behind.
Or at least even when you use them occasionally it wouldn’t be because you aren’t equipped to express the thought but really taking a second to gather your ideas.
PS: If you conduct business and make presentations in your local language, feel free to ignore this tip.
TIP #5: SLOW DOWN YOUR RATE OF SPEECH
When we talk fast, it becomes hard to sustain that rate beyond the first few seconds.
And when there are gaps in our thinking, we stumble on words, lean on fillers and the whole thing crumbles from there!
The trick is to slow down to begin with. It’s okay!
In a video series on communication challenges on camera, I have created one on dealing with high rate of speech.
The video goes live on my YouTube channel next week. Subscribe to it here to ensure you don’t miss it!
TIP #6: ORGANISE YOUR THOUGHTS
Assuming you have a working knowledge of English and are well versed in the subject matter, it’ll help you structure your thoughts before you speak.
Even in impromptu situations, just take a second to figure out what your general comments will be. With practice, it’ll take you only a second!
Knowing the direction in which you will be going helps you stay on track – and not stray into a jungle of fillers – but also keeps your audience engaged.
Here is a post on 9 solid tips to improve your articulation
I hope these tips will help you get rid of fillers and communicate more effectively in the future.
Start by monitoring yourself on camera or audio recording and take it from there. Follow one step at a time and you will do fine!
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