Speaking eloquently is one of the most important skills in the pursuit of commanding the respect and consideration of an audience. Whether you are speaking with coworkers, acquaintances, or friends, delivering a sentence with a smooth cadence is essential. Useless filler words like “um” and “uh” are obstacles to making your point well and with confidence.
A survey of the most effective speakers reveals individuals that are particularly skilled at eliminating filler words. The best speakers don’t falter in their oration, but instead emphasize the most meaningful parts of their delivery. It makes sense; commanding an audience is hard to do when you don’t seem to be able to command your own words. This fact rings true in professional communications and in more intimate conversations.
Of course, filler words are common- most of us use them from time to time, but that doesn’t change the fact that they don’t deliver information. Using these words in conversation is akin to clearing your throat, a kind of guttural expression that doesn’t contain meaning. While this might not seem like a significant offense, frequently using fillers instead of poignant, well-chosen words decreases the listener’s receptiveness to your point. Worse, frequent fillers can undermine your audience’s respect for you and your intelligence in general.
Communication is the key to developing and maintaining good working and personal relationships. Fortunately, there are some things that even the worst filler word offender can do to hone their speech.
Let There Be Silence
Let there be silence, if even just for a moment. Sometimes, you need a moment to collect your thoughts, review your notes, and proceed with your point. In these moments, filler words often rear their ugly heads. To combat the temptation to throw in an “uh”, it is essential to become comfortable with this brief silence. Seasoned journalists and interviewers use this important silence to tease out revealing information that would otherwise go unnoticed.
It can feel stressful to have all eyes on you as you quietly recalibrate your point, but approaching this moment as an opportunity to assess the listener’s interest is more constructive. Staying cool and confident, even when nothing is being said, lends an air of thoughtfulness to whatever you are saying. As far as the audience is concerned, you deeply think about things before you say them, and you have no need to stumble over an ill-formed point.
You can also take the opportunity to really look at whomever you are talking to. You might see confusion or interest in their eyes, leading you to revise your approach. Additionally, looking at someone in the eyes communicates confidence and power. Psychologically, it forces listeners to be interested in you and reciprocate your eye contact.
Along with being comfortable with momentary silences, slowing down while you talk is an important skill to develop. Even if it’s mere fractions of a second, it can take time for an idea or sentence to fully distill in your mind and be delivered by your mouth. If you notice that your brain works faster than your lips, that’s because it is true. Speaking a little bit more slowly lets your mouth catch up, so to speak, and eliminates dead space where filler words might pop up.
Resisting the urge to let words spill out indiscriminately will stop you from talking in circles that end up being punctuated by fillers. Another benefit is that the right pace lends distinction to each word, and encourages the person you are talking to fully absorb what you are saying. This may be difficult if you are talking about something that excites or angers you, but it is especially important at times like these, when fillers could obstruct the important points you are trying to make.
You might have to listen to a painfully honest version of yourself before realizing just how much you use filler words. You might use “yeah” every time you want to start a new topic rather than introducing it in a more congenial, conversational way. Perhaps when you are confused about how to proceed you revert to grumbling and saying “um” more than you would like to admit. Listening to recordings of yourself will give you insight into speech patterns that you didn’t realize you had.
There are many opportunities to do this. Though it might be awkward at first, ask your friends if you can switch on your cellphone’s record function while the two of you talk. When you’re at home alone, pick a topic that you are passionate about and record yourself talking about why other people should be interested in this topic as well. You can imagine yourself talking to a specific person or a group of people. Another method is to imagine your future self being interviewed about an accomplishment.
When you review the recording, take note of a few things. How fluently do you communicate? Do you make clean, meaningful statements? Or are you grasping for words and saying “like” or “um” every time you start a sentence?
The best speeches are practiced. Public speakers have teams of people that painstakingly critique their delivery. Actors rehearse for months before ever performing on stage. You can benefit from practice, too.
After recording yourself and making notes on where you could stand to improve, it’s time to practice. It might seem boring or even ridiculous, but this step is critical. Practice can be formal, like rehearsing a version of an upcoming work presentation, or informal, like casual conversation at a restaurant. The important thing is that you express yourself clearly and intentionally, without fillers. Make every attempt to be aware of when you use them and check yourself when you do.
Be Well Informed
After you have mastered the techniques above, keep your skills fresh by staying well informed. Thinking through your opinions, both the arguments that support them and oppose them, will help you speak authoritatively and without fillers. After all, If you are discussing something you know to be true or that you truly believe and you have points to back it up, the necessity for the words “like” or “uhhh” are effectively eliminated.
Before an interview, read up on your potential employer and their history and be ready to relate your own experience to that. Don’t get caught off guard and sputtering with useless words. Likewise, presentations and discussions at work, in class, or with your friends and family will be much more satisfying if you know what you are talking about and don’t stutter along.
As you master these techniques and your skills improve, you’ll find conversation much more enjoyable. Even better, your words will command the respect and regard of your colleagues and friends.