Using Annoying Filler Words When You Speak

Speak for Success Lesson 2

a woman speaking into a microphone
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What's the most irritating speech habit to your listeners? Using fillers - repeatedly saying things such as "um", "like" and "you know" when you speak. Fillers range from repetitious sounds, such as “uh”, “um” and the dreaded Canadian “eh”, through favorite catchwords and phrases, such as “you know”, “anyway”, “all right” and “like”. We won’t even attempt to give a full list of them here because new fillers such as “whatever” are continuously creeping into people’s speech.

The problem with using fillers such as these when you speak is that they distract your listener – often to the point that he doesn’t hear anything you say. Your message is entirely lost, obscured by the thicket of fillers surrounding it. Think about the last time you listened to someone with the filler habit. Chances are good you spent the time he spoke either being annoyed or counting the number of times he said the filler phrase.

And with some people, that number can be amazingly high. Some people tack fillers onto the end of every sentence and sandwich them between every phrase. It becomes, you know, really difficult for them to say anything without adding these empty additional phrases, you know?

And speech fillers are insidious. If you’re a person that uses fillers, you may not even be aware of the speech problem yourself. Fillers tend to become so embedded in our speech patterns that even once you’re aware that you’re using them, you’ll have a very hard time trying not to say them.

Guard Against Stock Responses

Even if you don’t usually stud your speech with fillers, you may find yourself falling back on stock responses that irritate your listeners. Stock responses are phrases that we develop over time to particular communication situations, such as statements that call for acknowledgment and nothing else. For instance, I once knew a person that responded, “Okey-dokey” whenever he was asked to do something. Now picture yourself as this person’s boss – and repeatedly having to ask him to do things. (Shudder.)

Try to vary your response to these standard situations, rather than falling back on whatever your stock response is every time. Avoid slang and “cute” phrases as you would avoid the plague. If you’re having trouble varying your responses, pick several neutral, formal phrases, such as “Right away”, “I will” and/or “Yes, certainly”, and stick to those.

The Tell-Me Game

  • This exercise is designed to test your speech to see if you use fillers and to identify your favorite filler words and phrases. You will need a partner to be your speech monitor to listen to you. Tell your partner the purpose of the game. His task is to identify and list all fillers as you speak. Set a timer for one minute. Your task is to speak for one minute on this topic: Your business’s products and/or services.

Do not allow yourself any time to think about the topic. Just speak. Speaking impromptu will more closely reproduce your “usual” speech habits. How did you do? Are you a filler user? If you are, there’s work to do to fix your sloppy speech habit. Continue to use the Tell-Me Game to try and cut down on the number of fillers you use in spontaneous speech. Increase the time of the exercise to two minutes.

Have Your Fillers Monitored

As the only way you’re going to eliminate fillers from your speech is through constant diligence, the help of your speech monitor (or monitors) will be invaluable. Once again, explain the speech problem you are working on, and have him tell you every time you commit this speech offense in his presence. If you’re serious about breaking this sloppy speech habit, having one monitor at home and one in your work environment is ideal.

The Benefits of Eliminating Fillers

As was the case with the first sloppy speech habit you tackled, as your speech fillers decrease, your listeners will:

  • Form a better impression of you as you speak, thinking of you as an educated, knowledgeable person, more worthy of trust;
  • Be better able to focus on the message you’re communicating, rather than being distracted by the way you’re expressing yourself.

Homework Assignment

Your first task this week is simple: use the Tell-Me Game at least once to identify your favorite filler words and phrases. The second task is much harder; work to eliminate the extraneous fillers in your speech. Continue working with a partner and playing the Tell-Me-Game throughout the week. Get your speech monitor or monitors involved to help catch the fillers you use. As you become more conscious of the way you speak and practice speaking without fillers, you’ll find your filler use decrease.