This post will discuss what filler words are and how to get rid of them.
What are filler words? They are distracting words such as
When you use too many fillers it’s distracting, you sound less intelligent, and it negatively impacts your brand in your personal or professional life. I coach leaders in many different industries and excessive fillers can hold people back no matter how senior they are in the organization. The silver lining to this lazy habit is that with a little focus and effort you can minimize these useless words. It is worth your time utilizing the exercises I am going to provide because it will help you eradicate these pesky useless words. With some practice, you will come across more polished and professional.
How bad do filler words sound? Here’s an example:
“Hi, uh, my name is, um, Steve, and um, I love to go snowboarding, like, in the winter. Because, like, it’s my, um, favorite sport since I was, like, a young child.
I know what you are thinking, that sounds sooo fantastic! Ask that person to be our opening speaker for our conference. Yup, that’s sarcasm!
If you were reading all those fillers on the page, you would likely quit after reading the first sentence. When people speak with fillers it has the same effect, it makes you want to quit listening. What’s troubling, is people rarely ever tell each other when they use too many fillers because it’s socially inappropriate or socially unacceptable to give real honest feedback. This is a real problem in people’s careers and personal life yet NO ONE tells us. Using a few filler words is natural but when too many are used it’s terrible.
How can YOU reduce, minimize, or eliminate fillers?
Identify your favorite fillers
Replace fillers with silence
1. Build Awareness
Next time you are in a meeting at work, at dinner, or with friends conversing, lightly tap your index finger on the table or your lap (if you want to be more discreet) when someone says a filler word. Here is a visual demonstration.
Only tap for 2 minutes in order to sharpen your ear so you start to tune in and hear filler words. Once you hear other people use filler words, you will start noticing yourself using fillers. This is essential to eliminating fillers, building awareness.
2. Identify your favorite fillers
Once you hear fillers in others, you should then start focusing on identifying your favorite fillers. This may be a bit painful but it is powerful. Record yourself speaking (and only yourself speaking) with your smartphone for 5-10 minutes a day for 3-7 straight days. It is best to record yourself when you are speaking over the phone so you just get your voice or when you are presenting in a. meeting. Put your phone onto voice record and listen to hear what fillers you tend to use. If it is private or confidential then don’t record.
The tough part of this exercise is not recording yourself, but going back and listening to your own voice on recording. Have you ever listened to yourself on recording? For me, listening to my own voice is a pretty brutal experience. I can’t help but think. There is no way I sound like that? DO I REALLY SOUND THAT GROSS, TERRIBLE, and AWFUL? How the heck does anyone listen to me? If you have this convulsive experience then you are normal and welcome to the club of self voice haters. After listening to yourself for 30-60 seconds you will get a little more immune to your voice and you will focus on what matters, identifying your key filler words.
The whole point of this voice recording exercise is to identify your habitual filler words. You might regularly use the word “like,” you might favor the word “um,” or you might use the word “literally” a little too often.
When you start building awareness and identify your own fillers, here is what happens.
Imagine a horizontal timeline and right in the middle of the timeline is the word “Um” which represents the moment you said the word um. To the far right of the timeline is 2 seconds after you said um and to the far left is 2 seconds before you said a filler word. Diagram below for any visual learners.
When you first start working on your awareness you start to notice filler words a second or two after you or someone else says them. You’ll catch yourself a second or two after the fact and think darn, I just used a filler. As you fine tune your ear and your reflexes speed up you will then catch yourself as you are saying a filler word. That’s when you catch it at zero seconds, in the moment. With more practice, you will catch yourself a second or two before you say the word and at that point you will replace the filler word with silence. This brings us to the third and final strategy to ELIMINATE filler words - replace filler words with silence.
3. Replace filler words with silence
This is the goal, to replace fillers with silence and it doesn’t take long to get there. Once you start noticing fillers words, then and only then will you have the ability to replace it with silence. This will make you sound much sharper! With consistent effort and practice, some people can get there in a couple days and others in a few weeks. Don’t focus on how stupid you feel working on this. Don’t focus on how difficult it is to eliminate this. Avoid excuses such as everybody does this or I am only using fillers because I am focused on them or I am only using fillers because I am speaking off the cuff. Excuses do not help you grow. Instead focus on how eliminating fillers will help you in your personal and professional life. Focusing on the bigger picture will keep you motivated. No one is going to help you with this so it’s up to you. You can change this in a short period of time and it will help you in your personal and professional life!
Everyday for at least 5-10 minutes a day listen and count other people’s use of fillers
Record yourself for 3 minutes a day and identify your favorite fillers
Replace fillers with silence and target a goal of no more than three fillers per minute for yourself
Once you get to two or three fillers per minute you will come across as more intelligent, confident, polished, and professional. Put the work in! I would love to hear from you on how these exercises work.
Thank you for reading!