Have you ever counted how often you say "kinda," "sorta," "you know," "I guess," and "like"? Filler words disable your message, detracting from your ability to be clear, understood, and credible. If you can't state your point concisely, you'll be viewed as young or inexperienced rather than taken seriously. Words count.
One leader I work with is a rabid entrepreneur, a virtual rocket ship in terms of intellectual capability and potential. Her one fault? She overuses the word "like" when she's pitching, making her sound like an '80s Valley Girl. This woman is a superstar, not a teenager. Yet when she speaks, she sounds 16 instead of 31.
Time to cut "like" from her vocabulary and "kinda" from yours. Here are three tactics to help you sound more confident and credible.
1. Think before you speak.
Yes, this oldie but goodie is tried and true. When you think out loud, you're live-streaming the story from your head through your mouth.
If you haven't preset your main point to access it quickly, your words come tumbling out of your mouth haphazardly. Consequently, people don't know what you want them to do with the information; they pseudo-listen for relevance to them. Fillers saturate your download, showing a lack of preparation, clarity, and conviction. In other words, you sound unsure of yourself.
To activate your words, ask a trusted friend or colleague to listen to your speech and count each "um," "uh," "like," and "kinda." Ever wondered, "Why didn't anybody tell me I had spinach in my teeth or my zipper was down?" Once you realize how many fillers you use, you'll be horrified.
The key is to remain conscious of it to interrupt it when it happens.
In an informal conversation, have someone tap a glass every time you use your favorite filler word. I use this guaranteed pattern interrupter in my coaching practice and programs I teach. Keep that word on a Post-it note on your desktop.
Do whatever it takes to consciously avoid using it. Catching yourself saying it and reframing sentences in real time rewires the bad habit.
2. Be direct, not impolite.
I struggle with this one myself. A naturally direct communicator, I've received feedback that I can be overly assertive. I've learned and practiced when to soften my message to be gentler in my approach. Deliberate word choices clarify my message instead of diluting it.
Often, my coaching clients don't want to be "disrespectful" or "impolite" to unfamiliar people. To be polite starting conversation, they add many extra words to sound friendly. I disagree with this approach of imposing your own discomfort (and lack of confidence) onto your client or colleague.
This type of language has a natural place in personal discussions. I sometimes use filler words to ensure people are more comfortable in the moment, but know when to turn it off.
Which statement is clearer? "I'm really kinda hoping we can, like, start this meeting on time, so if everyone could, please try and, like, be prepared..." or "Let's be prepared to start this meeting at 1 p.m."
Don't mitigate your message with filler. Be clear, direct, and precise. Let people know exactly where you stand.
3. Repeat your core message.
I work with a sharp senior executive at global American tech company who constantly says "Well, you know...you know...you know..." in conversations and meeting presentations.
The problem is, his audience doesn't know. After he speaks, other people in the room have told me offline, "Yeah, I stopped listening because he's not talking to me, he's just talking to himself."
Heads up: People listening notice your speech patterns. If you are a repeat filler-word offender, make it work for you. Next time, anchor your point of view by repeating your message rather than your filler words.
Your audience will feel tied to it directly and indirectly. Think about Martin Luther King Jr.'s famous speech: "I have a dream that one day...I have a dream that...I have a dream...."
Repeating your message in different ways embeds it with your audience. Adding words that have no correlation to your main point have the opposite effect.
Filler does nothing more than take up space around sections of your presentation or message, and people notice. How do you want your message and you to be remembered?
Cut out the "kinda," "sorta," and "I guess." As you demonstrate through words that you know what you want and what you are doing, I guarantee you will see an uptick up in people wanting to know more.