You can spend weeks crafting content and slides before a talk. Maybe you even rehearse for polish. Then what often occurs during presentations? Well, uh, actually, um…filler words happen, undermining your credibility. Simply put: if you use too many of them, it’s distracting. How can you avoid these language crutches and display more confidence? Read on to learn our tips for eliminating filler words from your talks.
What, actually, are filler words?
Uh, like, um, you know…these and any other word that gets repeated and “fills in” where there should just be…silence. Linguists and speech therapists attribute filler words to discomfort about pausing a moment while thinking of what to say next.
The Power of the Pause
Consider this truth: Confident speakers pause—nervous ones don’t. Nervous speakers run on and on and reveal their anxiety by speaking too fast. Don’t over-focus on how many “uh’s” or “um’s” get said. Instead, focus on the positive, or what to put in their place. Instead of “um’ing” your way through a project update or important talk, add in pausing. Taking periodic breaths sends more oxygen to the brain and facilitates thinking. It demonstrates leadership presence. As you pause, the audience gets more time to meaningfully digest your content and track with you. Pausing has the extra advantage of letting your audience know that you are in charge of your content.
Practice with a Friend
Grab a trusted colleague, friend, or family member and do a run-through rehearsal. Agree on an audible signal of feedback they give you each time you say “um,” or whatever your filler word tends to be. As you deliver the practice talk, perhaps they have a pen and loudly tap it on a table as each “um” occurs. The instant, in-the-moment feedback will jar you. This is a good thing. As you keep practicing and hear the pen tap a few more times, the “um’s” start to disappear. You begin to eliminate them (or take a pause) before continuing on with actual content that has meaning.
You’re On Stage All the Time
Another strategy: Consider a maxim from leadership development, which is that “you are on stage all the time.” In a given week, you talk to hundreds of human beings. Whether at home with family, out to dinner with friends, or talking to a colleague in the hallway, you have countless opportunities all day and week long to monitor yourself. Tune in and catch your filler words. Invite a friend or loved one to give you feedback real time. Keep building in those pauses.
Toastmasters International provides a supportive learning experience in which members are empowered to develop communication and leadership skills. The club setting offers a friendly place to help people strengthen and hone their speech skills. Easy-to-attend meetings put a focus on “uh’s” to help speakers to catch and eliminate them. You can find a club near your work or home, with drop-in meetings to fit your schedule needs. (Many of our clients have club meetings at their company site.) www.Toastmasters.org.
When it comes to presenting with greater leadership presence and less filler words, we’re in your corner. Follow these simple steps to eliminate the “uh’s” and bring more confidence and polish to your talks.
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