How counting your ‘ums’ & ‘ahs’ can make you a better speaker

 In Delivery, Feedback, Learning from Luminaries, Meetings, News, Sports people, The Winning Voice

Everyone uses filler words when they speak.

The filler words become a problem, when they distract a listener from your message and/or when a listener starts counting your filler words. Filler words/phrases include ‘um, ah, like, so, well, you know’.

Noah Zandan makes some good points in this article How to stop saying “Um” “Ah” and “You Know” .

Here is a two step process I use when working with clients to reduce their filler word usage.

#1 After identifying their target filler word they want to eliminate, I ask the person to talk for 30-50 seconds on any topic, for example, what they will do on the upcoming weekend.

Before they start to speak, I tell them that I will say ‘wait’ for any filler word I hear (and on hearing ‘wait’ they need to stop speaking for a moment and then continue speaking). I then tell them when I hear a sentence with no filler words I will say ‘good’. This immediate feedback usually reduces the person’s filler word usage, but it often causes the speaker to use a slower cadence.

#2 I then tell the person to do this task. For the first 10-15 seconds of every speaking episode, they should put extra effort to not use their key filler word. After the 15 seconds they should forget about eliminating the filler word and speak as normal.

By using this process – over time – the person will gradually reduce their filler word usage. You can use Step 2 of the process.

Another process you can implement is to

incentivise a trusted person’s awareness* of your filler word usage.

Here’s and explanation of the process:

Find a trusted person and tell them your target filler word. Prior to a presentation or meeting, tell the trusted person to count the number of target filler words they hear. Tell them you’ll give them a reward them for every 5 or 10 filler words they count.

A reward you can give the person might be, a Chupa Chups lollipop for every 10 filler words they hear.

If you keep incentivising people for counting your filler words, again over time, your filler word usage will decline.

By the way there is app LikeSo specifically designed to reduce filler word usage.

Own the Conversation

Here’s what to do over the next seven day:

  1. Identify your filler word/phrase.
  2. Trial either Step 2 or the incentivising awareness process.
  3. Reflect on trialling the process.


* Here is post on how luminary gridiron quarterback Tom Brady, incentivises his teammates to improve his passing of the football.

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