By Anietra Hamper, professional speech coach with more than 20-years experience in the television broadcast and public speaking industry.
Saying “um” is a nasty habit. Most people know it, but despite the greatest efforts, it has a way of creeping back into everyday conversations, and worse, interviews. “Um” is just one filler word of many that can cloud your message and tarnish your credibility. Its cousins: “er,” “like,” “so,” and “you know,” are just as toxic to communication.
I am frequently asked by the clients I coach how to break the filler word habit. You first have to understand WHY you use filler words and WHERE you use them before you can work to eliminate them permanently. Before you book your next interview or podcast, arm yourself with these insights so you can say farewell to the "um's" for good.
WHY you use filler words
Filler words serve no useful purpose in communication. They only confuse your message.
• Filler words are your way of thinking verbally.
• You are conditioned from a young age to respond promptly when someone addresses you. Filler words serve as placeholders as you gather your thoughts, but they distract from your message.
WHERE you use filler words
There are generally two places in communication where filler words are used. They are the spots where you naturally pause for thought.
• At the beginning of a statement. Example: “Um, solo travel is a growing topic for editors.”
• Between ideas. Example: “Solo travel is a growing topic for editors, and um, more individuals are feeling comfortable with this form of travel.”
How to STOP using filler words
• Replace “um” with a pause. By pausing in the places you might otherwise use a filler word, your communication is more declarative and succinct, and you are only saying the words you mean to say. Example: “[Pause] Solo travel is a growing tropic for editors. [Pause] More individuals are feeling comfortable with this form of travel.”
• PAUSE – THINK – ANSWER. Do not feel obligated to speak or answer a question until you are ready. The pause feels uncomfortable at first, but it is only awkward to you. Taking a moment to pause, think, then answer enables you to communicate clearly and authoritatively.
• Practice. As is necessary with changing any habit, you have to put these methods into practice. Over time, you will find it easier to catch yourself before the filler words come out of your mouth.