It is doubtful that anyone in the history of the world has ever written filler words such as uh and um into their presentation. After all, these words add absolutely no value to the message that is being shared. And yet, uhs and ums always seem to find their way into numerous presentations every day.
Some have argued that filler words make a presenter sound natural and human. But how many presenters are able to only and purposefully throw a few uhs and ums into their presentation for effect? Not many. The reality is, speakers do it without even realizing they are, and by relying on filler words, their credibility is weakened and they appear less authoritative in the eyes of the audience. Filler words also indicate a lack of preparedness, knowledge, and even passion about your topic.
For these reasons, you should strive to minimize filler words in your own presentations. Here are some ways you can do just that:
Become Aware You’re Doing It
Before you can commit to stomping out filler words from your own presentations, you’ve got to become aware of just how often you use them. You can do this in a few different ways:
- Record the audio from your next presentation and conduct an objective analysis.
- Record yourself on video. While you may cringe at the idea of seeing yourself conduct these presentation faux pas, it is very beneficial to see your facial expressions when using filler words.
- Recruit a friend or family to attend your next presentation, take notes, then give you blunt feedback. Ask them to not only tally the number of times you use filler words but also the impact they had on your overall message.
Understand What is Causing You to Use These Words
Once you’ve been confronted with the awful truth – that you yourself have a bad habit of using filler words – it’s time to understand why you do it. Most people use uhs and ums during points in their presentation when their brain needs a second to catch up to their mouth.
In real life, it’s not a problem to use filler words to fill the dead space during conversations with friends and loved ones. Saying, “um” during a phone call with your best friend simply lets her know you’re trying to remember where you went to lunch the day before. It’s a rather harmless way for you to send a signal to the listener that you are trying to gather your thoughts.
But this same signal is useless during public speaking. After all, no one in the audience is going to chime in the second you pause. So why feel the need to fill that dead space with sound?
Once you understand this is why you are repeatedly using filler words, you can begin to extinguish them from your presentations.
Get Better with Your Preparation
It is more common to use filler words the less prepared you are. When you fail to prepare for a presentation adequately, a couple of different things happen:
- Your brain is not able to fluidly pulls words from a prepared memory, but must instead create words on the fly. This increases mental strain making it likely your mouth and brain with struggle to keep up with one another.
- Your nerves are heightened because you don’t feel as confident as when you are FULLY prepared. Nerves make us rev up our speech pattern, and, when we speak very quickly, our brain simply can’t keep up.
As we just mentioned, fast talking is one of the biggest reasons presenters rely on uhs and ums. Even when you’re very prepared, you still may find yourself a pile of nerves, and these nerves will make you talk faster and faster.
It’s important to work on slowing the pace of your speech. This slower pace will allow your brain to keep up with your mouth. An added benefit of slowing down is your audience has a much better chance of receiving your important information.
Make sure to get plenty of rest the night before, and do some deep breathing exercises before you take the stage. This will help you feel calm and relaxed.
Human beings seem to feel awkward and uncomfortable during silence. Hence the sounds we make and filler words we use. Why have we become a society of silence-fearing people?
As a presenter your job is to embrace silence by embracing pauses. Get into the habit of replacing your uhs and ums with silence instead. Commit to making this change and eventually you will get into the habit of pausing instead of filling the silence with empty noise.
While it’s important to monitor your progress along your journey, it’s even more important to be patient and know that habits weren’t built in a day and they won’t be broken immediately either. Just keep at it and before you know it, you won’t utter the words “uh” or “um” ever again.