how to stop using filler words - obama's presidential speech

How to Stop Using Filler Words When You Speak

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Ever come across this unintentional slip while doing a speech? “Umm… you know”… in other words, using unnecessary filler words? Whether it’s caused by frazzled nerves, your mind going blank for a split second, or a distraction that broke your train of thought, filler words just seem to pop out of nowhere. Filler words by themselves are innocuous — however, using them repeatedly can diminish your confidence or worse, your credibility to your listeners. Our objective is to get you off the habit of using filler words and train yourself on how to stop using filler words.

Read through our tips and advice on how to stop using filler words so you will become more self-aware of this habit and be able to apply the right strategies to overcome using filler words.

What Is a Filler Word?

The first step in learning how to stop using filler words is to know what filler words are. Basically, filler words are meaningless and do not add value nor context to one’s speech.

The most commonly used filler words are “like,” “well,” “so,” and “okay.” Filler words can also take the form of gibberish expressions or pointless phrases.

filler words

Filler Words

Expressions such as “um,” “er,” and “ah” are plain gobbledygook, but they always seem to find their way into your words. Phrases like “you know,” or “do you know what I mean?” are examples of filler words as well even though they are real words, as is beginning a sentence with “so” out of the blue or punctuating your speech with “like.”

Why Do We Use Filler Words?

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Imagine being in the middle of explaining a complex topic or pitching for an important client presentation. Unless you’ve memorized every word, you are bound to insert a filler word somewhere in your spiel at some point. Why is that?

Place Holders

According to communications experts, filler words are mostly used in speech as abrupt remarks, verbal pauses, or conversation markers. Filler words often appear in a speech to help the speaker transition to the next thought. Word fillers act as place holders while one is in the midst of thinking of what to say next. They act as verbal indicators to imply to the audience that the communication is not over yet.

The Effect of Nerves

Nervousness and anxiety can affect the way you think and deliver your words. You tend to speak faster and breathe less when nervous, so the words that come out of your mouth might not have been processed yet by the brain; thus the tendency to resort to saying filler words.

Intentional Use

However, there are times when people may use filler words intentionally to fill a gap between thoughts or to fill an impending pause, to renew the audience’s attention by asking for feedback (e.g. do you know what I mean?) or to build up emphasis on the next thing that you’re going to say.

What’s Normal?

Using filler words in speech is actually normal, but using them repeatedly can give your audience a bad impression. Speech experts refer to this overuse of filler words as a disfluency. A speech disfluency is defined as a break, irregularity, or non-lexical vocable (i.e. gibberish expressions) that occurs during the course of delivering what could otherwise be an articulate speech. Speech disfluencies can be off-putting to your audience and can distract them from absorbing the essence of your message.No one expects you to be flawlessly eloquent or articulate all throughout a speech, but consciously avoiding the use of filler words will help put your message across better to the listener. Therefore, it is essential to kick off the habit by learning how to stop using filler words.

How Filler Words Can Impact Your Audience’s Attention


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A study conducted by the Harvard Business Review analyzed over 4,000 spoken communication samples to identify how frequently speakers rely on filler words and how the use of filler words affects the perception of their audience. Findings revealed three significant critical factors on how excessive use of filler words can negatively impact the audience’s attention.

  1. 1The use of excessive word fillers lessens audience engagement.
  2. 2The use of word fillers in a formal setting gives the impression that the speaker is nervous, distracted, or disengaged thus losing credibility to the audience.
  3. 3Filtering through a lot of word fillers to absorb the important parts of the speech takes a lot of cognitive effort for the audience. Because of this, the listeners will tend to get distracted by other things in their mind.

How to Stop Using Filler Words

In order to instill the discipline on how to stop using filler words, you need to train yourself properly. Try to employ these approaches to condition your mind to steer away from using filler words:

Record Yourself While Speaking Filler Words

You can do this by recording yourself with a video camera or a voice recorder while you’re doing a presentation. Even a simple phone conversation where you need to speak formally with a colleague or a client will do. Doing so will make you more self-aware of how you communicate with people as well as the particular instances where you are most likely to use filler words in the conversation.

Identify Your Weak Points

As you listen to your voice recordings, take note of filler words that you frequently use and make a conscious effort to avoid using them on your next speech or conversation.

Organize Your Ideas When Preparing a Speech

To avoid resorting to filler words at the last minute, doing the necessary preparations to deliver a speech is key. It’s like doing an outline: group your sentences by subject matter and then leave room to pause between each topic. This will help you create your own rhythm as you deliver your speech and will decrease the chances of you uttering a filler word during those pauses.

Do Eye Contact More Inclusively

Instead of focusing your attention on one person while speaking, make eye contact with several members of your audience. When speaking at a conference call, avoid pacing or looking around aimlessly. Instead, focus your attention on your notes and on the flow of the conversation to help lessen the chances of uttering filler words.

Prepare Transitional Devices to Your Speech Ahead of Time

List possible phrases you can use to fill in the gaps or pauses in between topics. Phrases such as “Let’s move on to the next topic of discussion,” or “Moving on to the next agenda” sound more articulate as compared to filler words. Practice using these transitional phrases until it becomes natural whenever you have to use them.

Focus and Prepare Yourself Mentally Before a Speech or Presentation

This is also good practice if you’re doing a job interview. Using filler words at a job interview can easily diminish your credibility to the interviewer. Think of filler words as a deterrent or stumbling block when it comes to putting your message across. This will get you into the mindset of avoiding them.

Breathe and Speak More Slowly

It’s natural to feel nervous while speaking, but it also makes you forget to breathe. As a result, you end up speaking too fast. Process your thoughts before speaking so your thoughts and your words are in sync. A moment of silence is not a crime, and you don’t need to stuff every second with your words. Grab that pause as an opportunity to emphasize a point, to build suspense for the next topic, or to allow your message to be fully absorbed by your audience.

Practice Makes Perfect

The only way to overcome nervousness is to keep speaking in public. The more you speak with people, the higher your confidence level will be. You don’t always have to speak to a big audience, but doing it once in a while really helps.

Embrace Imperfection

While practice makes perfect, no human being is. Even the most eloquent speakers on earth make mistakes. The goal is to minimize the use of filler words: trying to eradicate using them completely is unrealistic.

As You Improve, Reward Yourself

Rewarding yourself for improvements you’ve made will motivate you to do your best every time you need to speak in public. It doesn’t have to be a material reward: any little token to signify that you are giving yourself a pat on the back for a job well done will do.


If you think about it, training yourself on how to stop using filler words (or at least minimize using them) can be summarized into four important things: awareness, discipline, organization, and concentration. By applying the ten strategies we’ve elaborated on above, you will find yourself speaking lesser filler words and more substance.Making a concerted effort to apply these approaches on how to stop using filler words will not only make you a better speaker, it will also make you a good listener. Listen to yourself closely to see what areas you need to improve on and listen to those who have applied these strategies ahead of you for pointers. After all, speaking and listening are directly and causally related to one another.

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