I’m going to uh talk about um um this annoying um habit that most um um everybody has when uhhh speaking. So, um keep reading to ummm learn why you tend to uhhh do this when um speaking, and some uh uh uh tips to improve.

You are probably about ready to pull your hair out by reading those couple of sentences. Trust me I know as they were just as hard to type as they are to read. So then, why are we so comfortable inserting various “ums” and “uhs” into our words when we speak?

These “ums” are called filler sounds or disfluencies, and we tend to use them to fill pauses in our speaking rather than just being silent when we are searching for the right word to say. Some studies say that up to 10% of our spoken word include these disfluencies, and most of us don’t even know we are using them. In addition to filler sounds, we also use filler words and filler phrases:

“Basically”, “Like”, “Right”, “So”, “You Know”, “By the Way”, “Literally”, and on and on.

The problem with using filler sounds and words is that they are empty calories creating no additional meaning or purpose with what you are trying to convey. The listener has to mentally filter out all those disfluencies before they can interpret what they are hearing, this creates a situation where you as the speaker may not be clearly articulating your point or idea to the listener. The other challenge these disfluencies cause is that your listener may draw some quick assumptions about you and your message. They may think you are unknowledgeable, not confident, or your message is not valid or accurate.

Now that I got you all self-conscious about your use of these disfluencies, here are a few tips to help you start reducing your dependance on filler.

1. Pay attention to how often you use filler.

Before you can start cutting filler out you have to be aware of how often you are using it. Start by just paying attention to your own speaking and listen to filler you tend to use, is it sounds or words or phrases? Notice how often you use filler and under what circumstances you use it more or less. Do you tend to use a lot of filler when speaking about topics you aren’t well versed in, or with people you don’t know very well?

This awareness will drive you nuts for a little bit, it did me. When I first started paying attention to my words I felt as if I was paying more attention to my filler than my message, I was also annoyed listening to how everyone else is using filler. This will subside over time with practice, you’ll get better in recognizing when you are using filler and when you are not.

2. Slow down when speaking.

When your mind is racing a 100 miles an hour the words coming out of your mouth might not be keeping up. By slowing down your speaking you can create some time for the words to catch up with your head.

3. When public speaking, prepare prepare prepare.

I think you’ll find that you use more filler when you are speaking about something you aren’t entirely prepared to talk about. You are less likely to use filler when you are very comfortable with the subject matter, and the way you get more comfortable with the subject matter is by practicing and preparing. Give your speech out loud in front a a mirror so you hear the sounds and words you use, don’t just practice it in your head. By going over your topic again and again you’ll continue to refine the message and the words you want to use.

4. Silence is your friend

For some reason we often think that sounds are better than silence when searching for the right word or idea you want to convey. But here’s the thing, silence is often powerful. It will draw your listener in to what you are about to say next. Strategically placed silent pauses in your speech or talking will create a moment for your listener to interpret what you just said and an opportunity for some anticipation to be generated with what you are about to say. This is some of the best advice I’ve ever been given, and you’ll understand why when you pay attention to those that do it.

5. Stay vigilant

And lastly, stay vigilant in monitoring your use of filler and practice these techniques to improve. The use of these disfluencies is so ingrained in our language that it will take some time to start reducing your use of them. And don’t be too hard on yourself, you will still use them from time to time and that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Being able to recognize when filler is distracting the listener from hearing your message will make you a much better communicator.