“She was like . . . And I was like . . . But we were all . . . Um . . . ” These were the highlights of an overhead conversation between two twenty-somethings on a bus. By the time we reached their stop, the amount of “ums” and “likes” each had uttered was staggering . . . triple digits.
Filler words. They are something I wouldn’t have noticed in other people’s speech prior to Toastmasters. The reason? I am a closet filler user. Typically, it only comes out when I visit my mom and sister, but every once in a while my dependency on the useless words creep into my speeches.
Why Do We Use Fillers?
Steven D. Cohen, an award-winning speaker who leads career and academic workshops on public speaking at Harvard Extension School, believes we have been conditioned to answer questions immediately from an early age. We feel the urge to speak when spoken to.
Filler words are commonly used when we begin talking and as a transition between ideas. According to Seth Godin, it’s our way to “keep making sounds in order to keep your turn as the speaker.” Or so that the other person won’t jump in the moment you pause. It’s a way of keeping the floor.
At least it explains why I use it comes out with gusto around my talkative family members.
How Do We Replace the “Um” and “Like”?
1) Remind yourself that the person you are talking to (or the audience) isn’t waiting to steal the microphone from you. You have the floor.
2) When practicing your speech, talk as slowly as you need to. When transitioning ideas or verbally considering your next word — PAUSE. THINK. PROCEED.
3) Eventually, your speech will get faster . . . minus the ums.
Note that we aren’t “replacing” the fillers with alternate words but adding silence to your dialogue or speech. Oddly the way to move your speech forward is by not saying a word.
- “Eliminating the Dread Um” by Steven D. Cohen, Harvard Extension School
- “Um, Like and Being Heard” by Seth Godin