As a communication coach, I know how important it is to eliminate filler words from our conversations. I also know that the advice is easy to dispense and hard to execute. We all use filler words from time to time: 'ah', 'um', and 'like.'
Recently, I've noticed two filler words creeping up in professional conversations. Entrepreneurs, job candidates, television pundits are using this verbal filler way too often. It's annoying, distracting, and makes speakers sound like amateur communicators. The two words are:
No, I don't know.
A venture capitalist told me he heard a pitch that started like this: "Well, thanks for letting us present. We, you know, have an idea for a market that's, you know, ripe for disruption." In five seconds the VC tuned out of the conversation.
First, the entrepreneur used an overused buzzword--disruption. Second, and more annoying to this VC,he used the annoying filler phrase; you know.
No, the VC doesn't know.
By saying 'you know' to fill space, you're leaving the impression that you're nervous, uncertain, or seeking validation for your idea. Either way, it's distracting and unprofessional. You should sound strong and confident, not passive and weak.
I don't believe the use of filler words diminishes a person's competence, but they do diminish how effective that person is perceived by others. I recall watching a famous person who wanted to run for elected office. In her first television interview she used the phrase 'you know' thirty times in a two-minute interview.
Viewers took to social media to say she didn't "sound confident." Filler words do not instill confidence in a speaker.
Here are three ways to eliminate fillers from your remarks before they detract from your message:
1. Watch professionals.
Sports announcers who are at the top of the game rarely use filler words. They think about what they're going to say next and deliver the comments precisely and concisely.
Listen to Jim Nantz calling a golf event or Bob Costas calling the Olympics or Al Michaels calling a football game. After years of practice commenting on plays in real-time, these announcers are skilled at delivering the words they want you to hear--with no fill.
If they're thinking, they pause in silence. They feel no need to fill empty space with words.
2. Record yourself.
If you're serious about improving your presentation skills, record yourself on video, and replay it with someone else in the room. You don't have to tape your entire presentation, just the first five minutes.
That should give you all the information you need to make some adjustments. You might be floored to hear how many filler words you use.
For most people, simply watching themselves on video is enough to overcome some issues. Video feedback is even more effective in the presence of others who can pick up on some verbal mannerisms you might overlook.
3. Tap the glass.
I stumbled upon this technique by accident--or by necessity, depending on how you look at it.
I was working with an executive who had a tendency to use filler words during a presentation. No matter how many times I called attention to the distracting habit, he did it again and again, in nearly every sentence.
I become so frustrated I began tapping a drinking glass loudly every time he did it. The client was now the one who felt annoyed and quickly began to eliminate the filler words.
A few "um"s and "ah"s from time to time will not detract from your ability to persuade an audience, but a steady stream of fillers can damage your efforts. The good news is that once you are made aware of the problem, you can easily follow these suggestions to reduce or eliminate them.