Um, Uh, Like, You Know…and other Filler Words

um-uh-like-you-know-pictureDo you ever wonder about the origin of these ‘filler words’? We’re all familiar with them, whether we use them or not, filling in those awkward pauses or comforting us for some mysterious reason.

My daughter recently called me after her biology class to complain about how often her instructor used these words. The instructor’s overuse of the words distracted her to the point she lost focus on the lesson. I laughed because this was one of those parenting successes I taught her as a child. Having noticed that she and several of her friends overused the filler words, I created a game for her 15th birthday party in which I would present them with a topic (How to use a remote control, how to cook bacon, etc.) and give them 30 seconds to explain—without using filler words. While I had expected the game to be a flop, they loved it. Not only that, the lesson has stuck with them for 10 years.

How do you compare in your own conversations? Now that you’re thinking about it, listen to see which ones come up most often in your dialogue. What about your tagline and elevator speech? When it comes to business, you’ll want to speak as clear and concise as possible without distracting your listeners. If you seek out speaking opportunities, you’ll want to weed out these words for a stronger, more memorable presentation.

Here are some tips I’ve acquired through my own experiences to improve your professional dialogue (other than speech class in college, I have no affiliation with speaking organizations—these ideas are my own.)

•    Play “No more Ums, Uhs, Likes, You-Knows” with your friends, family, professional organization, local networking group, civil organization or similar group. Build awareness and have fun at the same time with booby-prizes or rewards.
•    Practice your tagline, elevator speech, or presentation in front of the mirror, a family member, or a trusted friend. Each person elicits a different internal response and therefore may cause an unknown flow of filler words. Have him hold up a sign, clap her hands, or ding a bell each time you use one of these words or phrases. If that makes you nervous, have your listener create a column for each word and mark each time one is used.
•    Record your tagline or elevator speech: few of us enjoy hearing our own voice, but there’s a lot to be learned from listening.

Listen and refine by eliminating these words, speaking up if your voice is soft, and other tidbits you’ll observe. Nerve-wracking, yes, but very helpful!

What did you discover about yourself?

Kristen Edens
Kris the Scribbler

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