Imagine videotaping yourself for one minute and presenting your personal and/or professional introduction. Now imagine yourself replaying the video? What would you guess is your filler word of choice? Many of us have a filler word we use when we are under pressure. Most of us have no idea we are using one or two of them quite frequently. What is your filler word of choice: uh, um, so, ok, like, try, or right?
A 90-second video can be a helpful communication teaching tool. I videotape many of my clients to help them polish their communication skills. As we play back the video, we notice word choices and distracting behaviors. Such as, moving in a swivel chair, hand ringing and playing with a pen in one’s hand. One thing that often shocks people is their use of filler words.
Many people listen to the tape and say…” I had no idea I used so many fillers.” It’s hard to shift a speaking pattern. However, with some data and techniques most fillers can be greatly reduced.
Here are some tips.
- Get Data- Videotape yourself and listen. Identify your filler word(s) of choice.
- Get More Data- I encourage people to have a colleague or friend count the number of fillers they use in a presentation. For example, if “um” or “ok” is my filler word of choice, I’d have a friend count how many times I say it in a five minute presentation and then set a goal to reduce the filler word frequency over time.
- Notice Your Filler Word Pattern on the Video- Do you use filler words at the end of sentences, between sentences, to start sentences? Once you see the pattern, try inserting a breath at those moments. For example, if you are someone who uses a filler at the start of the sentence; be sure you take a good breath before you start speaking so you can land your words clearly and concisely instead of starting with a filler.
- Ask for Feedback- If you are working on reducing your fillers, tell a trusted colleague. For example,” I’m working on reducing the number of times I say “so” in my communication. Can you help monitor how I’m doing?”
- Watch for Replacement Fillers- Many people quit using one filler and then replace it with another one. I see many people reduce their “uhs and ums” and then shift to “so”. Watch that one filler does not replace your frequent filler word.
- Research Transitional Phrases– Remember when you were writing essays for school and your English teacher said to try using transitional phrases to guide the reader through your paragraphs? The same can be said for speaking. Identify transitional phrases you like to use and when you feel an “um” coming on, try a transitional phrase instead.
- Listen for “Upspeak”- Upspeak is a vocal pattern where a people ends a sentence by raising their voice at the end of the sentence. Upspeak can become a filler. For example, if you were introducing yourself you might state your name and say…” I am Tom and I am in sales”. Usually, your voice would drop after you say sales. In upspeak, it would sound like…” I am Tom and I am in sales?” The voice would go up at the end of the sentence as if there was a question mark. This vocal pattern has been more common with young women in the past but now it is becoming prevalent across all ages and genders.
- Relax- We all use some fillers. What you want is to polish your communication skills enough that you have minimal fillers.
What’s your first step to managing your fillers?