How Do You Eliminate Filler Words?

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First of all, you need to conduct a discovery session and find out exactly what kind of filler problem you have. That way you can get to a solution much faster. My suggestion is that you ask a college to videotape you the next time you have to present, or just record your own voice. I like to divide the um, er, ah, ok filler words into three main categories, and it is important to know in which context you use fillers.

  1. Intra -centence fillers. This is interjecting filler words as a form of punctuation within a sentence or a thought. For example; if you, um, look at the screen you’;ll see this, um, pull-down menu, which has, er, all the file formats we can, er, export to .
  2. Inter- sentence fillers. This category involves using filler words between single thoughts or sentences. "… we are interested in seeing if this is a local or a national problem. We, er, provide the capability .."
  3. Transitional fillers. Usually occurs when moving from one discrete set of points to another. In the context of a Power point format, these utterances typically occur moving from one slide to another or one bullet point to another. We have just shown you how we can reduce your print costs by 10%. (click) Now, er, moving onto, um, the implementation of solar heating panels ..

The first piece of advice is practice the first two to three minutes of your presentation so that your brain feels a degree of comfort with the words. Usage of filler words is often the highest at the start of a presentation due to nervousness, unfamiliarity with the room and audience and a host of other factors. Giving your brain the mental memory of having spoken the words several times before helps settle you down faster and certainly privileged memories.

Now – take a five to ten minute section of a presentation or demo you know well, and take these steps. For any transitional fillers, place a visual cue in your materials. I suggest using the octagonal red stop sign as a cue for you to pause, take a breath and collect your thoughts before you move onto the next topic. Placing this visual cue on your slide deck, or speech notes / script will modify your rhythm enough to cut down on these fillers.

Both intra- and inter-sentent fillers can be treated with using a four-step technique:

  1. Stop speaking whenever you feel a filler coming on
  2. Silently pause
  3. Breathe
  4. Move onto the next word or sentence

The first few times you practice this, your delivery will be very choppy and staccato, yet you will find an immediate reduction in verbal filler noise. After about a half-dozen run-throughs the pauses will diminish and you will have established a new speaking cadence. Now just keep practicing as you will find that your own brain has become so attuned to your filler words that it actually filters them out. You need to become self-aware and listen to your speech so that you can identify and reduce the fillers. The concept of rhythm is important, some professional speakers call this " the music of speech" .

I have also seen some folks print out a half-dozen stickers with um or ah surrounded by the international red no sign. They then place these stickers on their laptop, cellphone, desk and watch and recondition their brain and assist in the process.

Remember the purpose is not to eliminate filler words, only to significantly reduce them. Even media-trained professionals and politicians use fillers, but as long as their words are interesting – people still listen!