I wish I could say I didn’t do it. I have spoken in a few thousand venues as a public speaker. You would think I could avoid them. I’m better than I used to be, but you are still likely to hear them when I speak.
“Thank you, uh, for the opportunity to speak today, I, um, am excited and passionate about this, uh, topic.” Arrrgghhhh!
They are called “fillers.” They are incidental sounds or words that we should not use when we speak. They distract. They cause the audience to lose confidence in the speaker. They indicate that the speaker is not well prepared.
I listened in person and via podcast to about 25 speakers the past three weeks. I was intentionally listening for these killer fillers. When it was all said and done, six fillers emerged as the most common. They are, in order:
- Uh. This non-word is a transition word that can indicate nervousness or lack of preparation. The speaker is trying to get to his or her next thought, but needs a bridge to get there. Some novice speakers use “uh” more than any word.
- You know. No we don’t; that’s why you are telling us. The speaker is seeking confirmation from the audience through this bridge word. If you note, he or she is usually looking right at the audience when these throwaway words are used. The speaker hopes to get at least the nod of a head for something other than sleep.
- Um. This non-word is a variance of “uh.” Surprisingly, it is more likely to be used by a more experienced speaker. Novices like “uh.” Seasoned speakers prefer “um.” So you are likely to hear an inexperienced bad presentation with “uh” or an experienced bad presentation with “um.”
- Et cetera. This one drives me crazy. The speaker is implying that he or she has a lot more to say, but the listeners will never know what it is. The real problem is that the speaker does not know how to land the presentation. If you hear someone say “et cetera,” you are likely to hear a speaker who struggles with brevity, clarity, and concise thoughts.
- In other words. So why do you need other words? Weren’t your original words sufficient? These speakers also lack clarity and conciseness. “In other words” allows them to drone on.
- Anyway. Sometimes used as “anyways.” Often speakers use this useless word after they think they’ve said something profound or funny. It’s like they are expecting a laugh track or applause. Nothing ever happens. And “anyway” is never defined.
How can we then avoid or minimize these killer fillers? Allow me these five suggestions:
- Listen to recorded presentations you’ve done repeatedly. It’s usually a painful but profitable process.
- Ask others to listen to you and evaluate you. Make certain the person will shoot straight with you. You might want to be careful if you use your spouse to be your critic. It can get ugly.
- Use a manuscript if you need to do so. I would rather someone read to me “uh” free than hear someone extemporaneously hit me with two dozen, “uhs,” “you knows,” and “et cetera.”
- Think about what your audience is hearing as you speak. Try to put yourself in their shoes. Think how your communication affects them or potentially affects them. Exercise empathy and lower the killer fillers.
- If possible, get written evaluations from the audience on your presentations. Again, the pain is worth the gain.
What killer fillers do you hear? How does that affect you as a listener? How can speakers minimize of even eliminate killer fillers?