How to Stop Using Filler Words in 3 Steps

April 29, 2017 - SOPHIE THOMPSON

Um, like, so, er… they’re all words that have slipped into everyone’s everyday vocabulary and they’re known as hesitation or filler words. There may be a number of reasons we use them - to fill a silence, out of habit, or we think it has meaning for what we are saying.

I’m a huge ‘like’ user - I just like think like I don’t even hear myself saying it anymore. My dad has often pointed it out to me and when I try to explain why I use it, I say it even more. Here are some techniques I’m using to try and stop using ‘like’ and the same steps can be taken to overcome any words or phrases you use that don’t add meaning to your message.

Filler words in your speech

Step 1 - Film yourself

If you’re anything like me, you have no idea how much you use filler words - it’s as if our minds don’t even register them as words. See, our minds know they add no real value to our speech, we just need to train our mouths to agree.

Begin filming yourself when you’re talking to family or friends so that you can hear what you sound like in everyday conversations. This is the best way to become aware of filler words you use. Some of the most common words and phrases to look out for are:

  • Um / Ummm
  • Ah/ Uh/ Er
  • Like
  • So
  • Ok
  • Well
  • Do you know what I mean?
  • You know?

Note: When referring to ‘like’ as a filler word, this does not include using the word ‘like’ as a simile, such as ‘this cupcake tastes like heaven.’

Once you’ve identified your filler words, you know to listen out for them. You can also think about why you use them.

Step 2 - Break the habit

Like any habit you want to quit, you need to commit yourself to it. Start off small and try and eliminate, or significantly decrease, your use of hesitation words in everyday conversation. When you hear yourself say one, backtrack and replace it with the word you actually mean to say, or repeat the last couple of words without the filler word. The more you do this, the quicker you’ll train your mind away from them.

Filler words in your speech

It’s important to try and understand why you use filler words. You might just need to slow down. When we speak too fast, we are more likely to take a moment to process our thoughts and use words such as ‘um’ or ‘like’ while our minds catches up with itself. If you’re losing your trail of thought, don’t be afraid to have a moment of silence. You might think this is awkward mid-conversation but silence is always longer in our heads than it is in reality. In fact, pausing can strengthen the message of what you’re saying, especially in formal situations.

Step 3 - Practice in a formal setting

Once you’ve become more aware of filler words in conversations, it’s time to test your use of them in formal situations, where you’re more likely to use them. A perfect example is presenting at a conference - something that 74% of people fear.

The best way of minimising your ‘ums’ and ‘ahs’ is to know your speech well. You want to know when to talk about certain points and what you want to include in your message without memorising a script. Using a script can be detrimental to your speech for a number of reasons (blog post to follow), with one of the main reasons being that you’re more likely to use hesitation words not less likely.

You might feel safer memorizing a script but if you lose your place, you won’t know what’s coming next because you’ve learnt the script in a certain order. When you don’t know what to say, that’s when you’ll start um, like getting er mixed up, you know?

Filler words in your speech VirtualSpeech filler words counter out of the total words in your speech.

The best way I’m practicing for this situation is using an app from VirtualSpeech, where you can practice your speech and receive instant feedback on your use of filler words. Plus, it’s more realistic than imagining yourself in front of an audience because the app uses virtual reality to make you feel like you’re actually in a room with an audience staring at you. You could even use the app without a headset if you just want feedback on what you’re saying.

Remember that everyone uses hesitation words so it’s not the end of the world if you still say the occasional one here and there. The important thing is that you kick the habit of saying them in every conversation. They dilute the power of what you’re saying and, let’s be honest, they can be annoying and distracting for the person you’re talking to as well. Do you have any tips on avoiding hesitation words?