As someone who speaks at more than sixty events each year (four last week), we professional speakers will ask our friends if any filler words found their way into our talk. Those are the extraneous words that don't add value, and actually might detract from your message. This is just one presentation trap that can ruin your best ideas. 

Uh, Um, Filler Words

Nothing can distract an audience more than filler words. The most common are "uh" and "um."  Others that tend to creep in are "so" (speaking from experience), "OK," "Right," and "Ya know."  These usually find their way into your presentation when you are searching for words. It's your brain's way of filling the silence while you figure out what you are going to say, next.

I recall growing up and my older system would respond, "No. I don't know..." each time I would say, "Ya know?"  Like most challenges, the first step is recognizing that you have an issue. Once you are conscious of the filler words, then you can work to control them.

My biggest piece of advice is to embrace silence. I'll sometimes pause for a few seconds and wait for the audience to lean in. That's when I know I have their attention.

Filler words and rambling distract from your message. As world-class speaking coach Michael Port shares, "If you can't get to the point...what's the point?"

Avoid using the term "honestly." It sometimes comes in the form of "To be honest..." Does that mean that you were lying the rest of the time? "Honestly" can be a filler word, and more importantly can undermine your message.

Fear Of Judgment

Nervous speakers share two common attributes:  1) They fear being judged by others; and 2) They lack true preparation and rehearsal. How do you overcome those hurdles?

You have to share the mindset of loving your audience. Once that's true, then focus on how you can impact them. One of the most gratifying parts of my profession is when I follow-up with audience members and see the positive impact they achieved. When someone says, "I'm having the best year of my career," I know I made a difference. Oh - and know that if you are doing something profound, a small subset of the audience might not like it. 

A common misconception is that if you rehearse, you'll seem stiff. If you are only partially prepared this is totally true. When it comes to preparation, true professionals rehearse our talks to the point that we can pickup the program at any point and not lose a beat. We truly know our material forward and backward.

I've had talks where the presentation slides stop working. That's OK, I can give the entire talk without slides. I've had an event come to me as I'm walking on stage asking if I can cut 12 minutes to get them back on schedule. I know exactly which bit to remove to stay within the time and still make an impact for the audience.

If you focus on making a difference for the audience and know your material without needing your slides as a crutch, then you won't feel nervous. You might be excited before getting in front of your audience, and that's a good thing.

Selling Too Much

You might be given the stage to address the audience at a conference. This can be a disaster. You might consider pitching the audience on your product/service. Don't do it!  

Instead, share stories of challenges you've helped others overcome. Make the customer the hero, not your company. You want the audience to think, "I have a similar challenge, and I would love to have the same outcome as that person in the story." 

Stories engage. Selling from the stage is a direct path to the vortex of evil.

Great Ideas Without Specific Action

It's a shame when audience members hear an entertaining talk, or meeting attendees hear a compelling presentation, and then they are left wondering what to do next? Always consider what action you want your audience to take when they leave your session. If it is a sales presentation, clearly define the next steps. If it is a larger audience, define the specific steps they can take to achieve the results you described.

If the audience leaves without knowing the actions they should take, they might not see their time invested with you as valuable.


Be prepared, embrace silence, focus on them, avoid selling, and leave the audience with action. Do those things, and your presentations will always land with success.