How to Stop Using Filler Words in Speeches

filler words

In the grand theater of life, words are the actors that play out our thoughts, ideas, and emotions on the stage of communication. But what about those words that seem to slip out more out of habit than intent? The 'um,' 'uh,' 'likes' and 'you know' tend to find their way into our speeches, often without us noticing. While seemingly harmless, these filler words can sometimes distract from our message and dilute its impact.

This article will explain why these words creep into our language and how to eliminate them effectively. Prepare to embark on a journey of linguistic refinement that will enhance your speeches and empower your words.


 Key takeaways:

  • Filler words can reduce the clarity and confidence of our speaking
  • Being conscious of filler words makes it easier to get rid of them from your speech
  • A speech coach can offer vital advice on how to remove filler words from your vocabulary and communication style


Table of Contents

  1. Understanding Filler Words
  2. Recognizing Filler Words in Your Speech
  1. Analyzing the Root Causes of Filler Words
  1. Strategies to Minimize Filler Word Usage
  1. Overcoming Nervousness and Building Confidence
  1. Rehearsing and Memorizing Key Phrases
  1. Seeking Professional Help and Feedback
  1. The Power of Active Listening
  2. The Practice-Review-Adjust Cycle
  3. Enhancing Public Speaking Skills and Reducing Filler Words


Understanding Filler Words

Filler words are linguistic tools used to signal ambiguity or fill pauses in speech. They are like the invisible threads in the tapestry of our speech. They weave themselves subtly into our sentences, often serving as verbal placeholders. At the same time, we gather our thoughts or decide on the next word. They sneak in while we're trying to figure out what to say next or when we're a bit nervous. They fill in the awkward silence and give us a breather. However, these seemingly insignificant words can sometimes cast a shadow over our message, diluting its impact and distracting our listeners.

Filler words are those seemingly insignificant words or sounds we often interject in our speech. Some common examples include "um," "uh," "like," "you know," "so," "actually," "basically," and "seriously." We use these filler words without awareness for several reasons:

  • Hesitation or Pause: We often use filler words when thinking about what to say next. They act as verbal placeholders, filling the silence while we gather our thoughts.
  • Nervousness or Anxiety: When we're nervous or anxious, it causes our brains to use filler words in order to maintain the flow of conversation and buy ourselves time.
  • Habit: Sometimes, the utilization of filler words has become a part of our natural speech pattern. We may pick up these habits from others or develop them over time.
  • Softening Statements: Filler words like "like" or "kind of" can be used to soften a statement or opinion, making it seem less direct or assertive.
  • Conversational Cues: Words such as "you know" or "right" can engage the listener, confirm understanding, or seek validation.

While filler words can serve these purposes, overuse can make our speech sound less confident and clear, which is why it's beneficial to be aware of and manage our usage.


Recognizing Filler Words in Your Speech

Becoming aware of filler words is the first step to eliminating them from your speech. It is an essential step toward clear and compelling communication. You can also become a more effective speaker as this helps with the following:

  • Enhance clarity and effectiveness of communication
  • Increase perceived confidence and credibility
  • Improve the listening experience for your audience
  • Encourage thoughtful and deliberate speech

To do this, you need to recognize when, why, and how you're using them. Below are some strategies to help you become aware of your use of filler words. By employing these points, you can become more careful of your use of filler words and start working on reducing their occurrence in your speech.


Cultivating Self-Awareness

The first step towards recognizing filler words in your speech is cultivating self-awareness. Pay close attention to your speech patterns during conversations, meetings, or presentations. Notice when and where you tend to use filler words. Are they popping up when you're nervous, unsure, or transitioning between ideas? By becoming more aware of your speech habits, you can identify when you're likely to use filler words and work on reducing their frequency.


Recording and Analyzing Your Speeches or Presentations

One effective way to spot filler words is by recording and analyzing your speeches or presentations. Listening to a recording of yourself can offer a different perspective and make identifying any overused filler words easier. You might be surprised by what you discover! As you listen, note any filler words you hear, and when and why you're using them. This analysis can provide valuable insights into your speech habits and help you devise strategies to reduce the use of filler words.


Seeking Feedback from Trusted Individuals

Another great way to identify filler words in your speech is by seeking feedback from others. Ask trusted colleagues, friends, family members, or a voice coach to listen to your speech and provide constructive feedback. They can point out any filler words you may be using excessively and might even notice patterns that you've missed. Remember, feedback isn't about criticism; it's about growth. Use it to improve your communication skills and reduce reliance on filler words.


Analyzing the Root Causes of Filler Words

Picture this: You're standing at a podium, the crowd before you waiting in anticipation for your words. You open your mouth, and out comes an "Um..." Almost instantly, you feel a twinge of regret. Why did that pesky filler word sneak in there?

Analyzing the root causes of filler words is vital for effective communication. Understanding why and when we rely on these verbal crutches allows us to anticipate and manage these situations more effectively, leading to more direct and confident speech. It enhances the quality of our communication by reducing unnecessary distractions and creating a smoother flow of ideas. Furthermore, it improves others' perceptions of us, as frequent use of filler words can sometimes be interpreted as uncertainty or lack of knowledge. Lastly, this analysis fosters personal growth, encouraging introspection and self-improvement—skills that benefit all areas of life.


Nervousness and Uncertainty

Nervousness and uncertainty often lead speakers to use filler words to buy time while they gather their thoughts. When anxious or unsure, our brains process information and formulate responses over time. In these moments, filler words like "um," "uh," "like," and "you know" serve as verbal placeholders, filling the silence while we think of what to say next. They essentially act as a buffer, preventing awkward pauses and maintaining the flow of speech.


Insufficient Preparation or Organization of Thoughts

Filler words in speech are frequently caused by inadequate mental organization or preparation. When we're not fully prepared, or our ideas are poorly-structured, we may struggle to articulate them smoothly. As a result, our minds scramble to formulate coherent sentences on the spot. In this process, filler words like 'um,' 'so,' 'actually,' and 'basically' often creep in.


Crutch for Transitions or Pauses

Filler words often act as a crutch for transitions or pauses when speakers search for the right words. They serve as verbal stepping stones, bridging the gap between thoughts or ideas. Words like 'like,' 'kind of,' and 'you know' are commonly used to smooth over these transitions, maintaining the flow of speech while the speaker's mind catches up. Similarly, when the right word or phrase seems elusive during pauses, filler words fill the silence, preventing awkward breaks in the conversation.


Strategies to Minimize Filler Word Usage

Once you've identified the underlying causes of filler words, it's time to focus on minimizing their usage. Here are a few strategies to help reduce reliance on filler words.


Deliberate Pauses and Moments of Silence

Silence and deliberate pauses can be practical tools to substitute empty words and improve the sincerity and clarity of your message. Instead of filling every moment, embracing silence gives you a chance to gather your thoughts. It allows your audience to absorb what you've just said. These pauses can also emphasize important points, drawing your listeners' attention and making your message more memorable. Moreover, silence exudes confidence, demonstrating that you're comfortable with your ideas and how they are presented. So, instead of bridging gaps in your speech with filler words, try using intentional silence. It may feel or sound uncomfortable at first, but with practice, it can significantly improve the quality of your communication.


Develop Vocal Variety

Developing vocal variety can be an effective strategy to reduce filler word usage. Vocal variety involves altering your speech's pitch, volume, speed, and tone to maintain listener interest and emphasize key points. By mastering these elements, speakers can express their thoughts more clearly and confidently, minimizing the need for filler words. When you're comfortable varying your voice, you're less likely to stumble or hesitate in your speech, thus reducing the reliance on verbal crutches. Furthermore, practicing vocal variety encourages mindfulness and better control over your speech patterns, making it easier to eliminate filler words. In essence, vocal variety not only enhances the overall quality of your communication but also helps curb the use of unnecessary filler words.


Practicing Articulation

Practicing articulation involves the clear and precise pronunciation of words, which requires a certain level of focus and control over one's speech. When you improve your articulation, you become more aware of each word you utter. This heightened awareness often results in fewer filler words, as you're more likely to pause and think about what you want to say next rather than falling back on verbal fillers. Additionally, effective articulation boosts your confidence in speaking, making you less reliant on these fillers to bridge gaps or buy time. So, by enhancing your articulation skills, you can improve the clarity of your speech and reduce the use of unnecessary filler words.


Creating a Clear Speech Outline

Developing a concise speech plan or structure helps reduce ambiguity and the need for fillers in your speech. When you have a well-structured outline, you are mapping out your thoughts and ideas, giving you a clear path to follow during your speech. This structure reduces the likelihood of stumbling or grasping for words, situations that often lead to the use of filler words. Moreover, a solid outline provides a sense of security and confidence, as you know exactly what you want to say and when you want to say it. This confidence diminishes the need for fillers, allowing for a smoother, more professional speech delivery. So, investing time in creating a comprehensive speech outline can significantly help in reducing the usage of unnecessary filler words.


Visual Aids or Props

These aids, whether slides, charts, images, or physical objects, serve as cues that guide you through your speech, reducing the chances of losing track or stumbling over words. When your focus is shared between your address and the visual aid, there's less room for uncertainty and the subsequent usage of filler words. Additionally, visual aids can help convey complex information more effectively, reducing the need for lengthy explanations that may invite filler words. Furthermore, they keep the audience engaged, allowing for natural pauses as viewers process the visual information, which can replace the need for verbal fillers. Thus, incorporating visual aids or props into your presentations can be a valuable strategy to minimize the use of filler words.


Overcoming Nervousness and Building Confidence

Nervousness often leads to rushed, disorganized speech and reliance on filler words as we seek to buy time or fill awkward silences while gathering our thoughts. Conversely, confidence allows us to deliver our message clearly, concisely, and without unnecessary interruptions. A confident speaker is comfortable with pauses, uses them strategically for emphasis, and doesn't feel the need to fill every moment with sound.

So, how do you overcome this fear and anxiety that hinders you from being the great speaker you're supposed to be? Below are some tips we've prepared for you.


Deep Breathing Exercises

Deep breathing exercises can play a crucial role in calming nerves before speaking. When we're nervous, our body often goes into a 'fight or flight' mode, resulting in rapid, shallow breathing. This state not only increases anxiety but can also affect the clarity and volume of your speech. However, deep breathing exercises help counter this response by triggering the body's relaxation response. They slow the heart rate, lower blood pressure, and promote a feeling of calm and control. Just a few minutes of deep, controlled breathing before a speech can help to clear the mind, steady the voice, and reduce physical symptoms of stress. 

Relaxation Techniques

When anxious or nervous, we tend to speak faster, stumble over our words, or use fillers to buy time or fill awkward silences. Progressive muscle relaxation, where you tense and then release different muscle groups, can reduce physical tension and promote a sense of calm. By incorporating these relaxation techniques into your preparation, you can manage your nerves effectively, improve your speech delivery, and significantly reduce the usage of filler words.


Visualize Successful Speeches

This mental rehearsal primes the brain for success, creating a blueprint of the desired outcome. As you mentally walk through your speech, hitting all the critical points with perfect timing, your brain begins to believe that this success is entirely possible, even inevitable. You see yourself standing confidently, your voice resonating clearly through the room, your message landing precisely as intended. Each positive detail you add to this visualization waters the seed of confidence, making it stronger and more robust. By the time you step onto the stage, you've already experienced success in your mind, reducing nerves and boosting confidence. 


Seek Opportunities for Public Speaking

Imagine confidence as a muscle - the more you use it, the stronger it gets. And just like working out, seeking opportunities for public speaking is like hitting the gym for your confidence. Each time you step up to speak, be it at a meeting, a toast at a friend's wedding, or a community event, you're giving your confidence muscle a good workout. Sure, you might stumble or fumble your words in the beginning, but that's just part of the training. With every speech, you learn something new, maybe about your speaking style or handling random questions from the audience.


Join Supportive Communities or Organizations

Participating in supportive communities or organizations can positively impact the development of your public speaking skills and increase your confidence. Such environments provide a safe space to practice, make mistakes, learn, and grow as speakers. They often consist of individuals with varying levels of expertise in public speaking, allowing you to learn from others' experiences and techniques. These communities foster a culture of constructive feedback, where members critique each other's speeches not to tear down but to build up. This feedback is invaluable in helping you identify your strengths and areas for improvement.

Moreover, the encouragement and camaraderie in these groups can help alleviate the fear of public speaking. Seeing others grapple with similar challenges and overcome them can inspire and motivate you to do the same. So, by being part of such a supportive community, you gain practical speaking experience and the encouragement and feedback necessary to continually refine your skills and become a more confident, effective speaker.


Rehearsing and Memorizing Key Phrases

Mastering the art of public speaking often involves tactics like rehearsing and memorizing key phrases. These crucial steps can significantly reduce the use of filler words. Just as an actor learns lines to deliver a convincing performance, a speaker who rehearses and commits critical phrases to memory is better equipped to provide a clear and compelling message. Here are some tips on how you can incorporate rehearsal and memorization to reduce filler words in your speech:


Identify and Rehearse Phrases or Sections of Your Speech

Recognizing and practicing phrases or areas of your speech prone to filler word usage is like spotting and fixing potholes on the road before embarking on a journey. By pinpointing these tricky areas beforehand, you can pay extra attention to them during your practice sessions. You can experiment with phrasings, paces, or pauses to ensure a smoother delivery.

Remember, it's completely okay to take a moment of silence to gather your thoughts instead of filling it with unnecessary words. This meticulous rehearsal reduces the chance of stumbling over these sections during the speech. Knowing you've prepared for even the most challenging parts of your presentation boosts your confidence. So, identifying and practicing these 'pothole' sections is a crucial step towards delivering a more refined and compelling speech.


Memorize Key Points or Stories

Keep on track and guarantee you convey your topic clearly by memorizing meaningful sentences or stories from your speech. These key points serve as the backbone of your address, guiding its flow and structure. By committing them to memory, you ensure that even if you stray off a bit, you can always find your way back to your main message. Stories, on the other hand, are powerful tools for engaging your audience. They add a personal touch, making your speech more relatable and memorable. Memorizing these stories allows you to deliver them with more authenticity and emotional impact, thereby captivating your audience. Knowing your key points and stories by heart can significantly boost your confidence, reducing the anxiety of forgetting what to say next.


Incorporate Engaging Anecdotes and Storytelling Techniques

Using captivating anecdotes and storytelling tactics in your speech brings flavor to your speech and keeps your audience hooked. Anecdotes provide a personal touch, allowing the audience to connect with you on a deeper level. They can bring complex concepts to life, making your message more relatable and easier to understand. On the other hand, storytelling techniques are all about building suspense, evoking emotions, and creating memorable moments. These techniques can range from setting up a captivating narrative arc to using vivid language that paints a picture in the listener's mind. By maintaining this level of engagement, you ensure that your audience is not just passively listening but actively involved, hanging onto your every word. This makes your speech more interesting and increases the chances of your message being remembered. 


Seeking Professional Help and Feedback

If you need help to break the habit of using filler words, it may be time to seek professional help or feedback. A speech coach or speech therapist can provide invaluable guidance on effectively eliminating such words from your diction and communication style. The best part is that a professional opinion can provide tailored advice based on your individual speaking style.



Work with a Speech Coach

Engaging with a speech coach or enrolling in public speaking classes are avenues providing expert guidance that can significantly enhance your public speaking skills. A great example would be John Henny's Compelling Speaker Program, a course that offers structured learning, covering everything from basics like posture and voice modulation to advanced techniques like storytelling and audience engagement. Speaking courses provide personalized feedback, helping you identify and work on your weaknesses while enhancing your strengths. This feedback is often more detailed and insightful than what you might receive from peers or self-evaluation, as it comes from professionals with extensive experience in the field. Additionally, these platforms provide ample opportunities for practice in a safe and supportive environment, which is crucial for building confidence and fluency. 

Utilize Speech Analysis Tools or Apps

Using software or apps that analyze speech and offer immediate feedback on the use of filler words can be a powerful tool in honing your public speaking skills. Much like having a personal tutor at your fingertips, these digital platforms provide real-time analysis and constructive feedback on your speech patterns. They are designed to identify and highlight the use of filler words, allowing you to become more aware of your verbal habits. This heightened awareness is the first step towards reducing reliance on filler words. Furthermore, these tools often provide quantifiable data, enabling you to track your progress over time and set tangible improvement goals. They allow for repeated practice in a non-judgmental, pressure-free environment, which can significantly boost your confidence.


Participate in Mock Presentations

Speaking clubs and organizations provide invaluable opportunities to practice your public speaking skills in a supportive and constructive atmosphere. The feedback you receive from fellow members or participants can shed light on areas of your speech that require improvement, which you might overlook on your own. Furthermore, these settings often mimic real-life scenarios, allowing you to experience and manage the nerves associated with public speaking. They also offer the chance to observe others' speeches, providing learning opportunities through examples. Regular participation can significantly enhance your confidence, articulation, and overall presentation skills.


The Power of Active Listening

Active listening is a real game-changer when it comes to reducing filler words in public speaking. Think of it as your personal guide, leading you toward clear and straightforward communication. When you actively listen, you're fully tuned into the topic, which helps you think more clearly. This clarity shines through in your speech, making it more organized and fluid. Naturally, those pesky filler words start to fade away. Plus, active listening allows you to pause and think before responding, especially when using it in everyday conversations. This helps you shape your ideas better and stops you from filling those pauses with unnecessary words. And let's remember - by actively listening to other great speakers, you can pick up some handy speaking habits to improve your delivery. So, developing active listening skills is a surefire way to cut down on filler words and become a more effective speaker.


The Practice-Review-Adjust Cycle

The Practice-Review-Adjust Cycle is a disciplined approach towards self-improvement in public speaking, particularly in reducing filler word usage. It is a constant refining process that gradually enhances the quality of your speech.

  • Practice. This step involves rehearsing your speech multiple times. This not only helps you familiarize yourself with the content but also enables you to identify where you're most likely to use filler words.
  • Review. It deals with objectively analyzing your performance and paying close attention to the use of filler words. Video recordings or speech analysis software can be especially useful in this stage.
  • Adjust. In this step, you are incorporating the feedback from the review stage into your next practice session. This might involve techniques like pausing instead of using filler words or restructuring sentences for better flow.

By repeating this cycle, you continually learn, adapt, and improve, thereby steadily decreasing your reliance on filler words and enhancing your overall speech delivery.


Enhancing Public Speaking Skills and Reducing Filler Words

The journey toward effective public speaking and the reduction of filler words is a multifaceted process that requires consistent effort, practice, and willingness to learn, which enhances your communication skills and boosts your credibility as a speaker. Various strategies such as engaging with a speech coach, utilizing speech analysis software, participating in speaking clubs, practicing active listening, and employing the Practice-Review-Adjust Cycle can significantly aid this process. Each approach provides unique benefits, from expert guidance and real-time feedback to opportunities for practice and self-improvement. By incorporating these strategies into your public speaking routine, you can effectively minimize filler words, enhance your speech delivery, and grow into a confident and compelling speaker. The key lies in persistence and continuous learning, as public speaking is a skill that can constantly be honed and improved.