“Whatever, er, sure.” “It’s, like, you know…” “Um. That’s a good question.” Known as non-words, or filler words, these meaningless sounds or words are often uttered to fill a pause or to keep a conversation going.
Although they seem harmless, sounds such as “um,” “uh,” “er” used repeatedly during a presentation will damage your credibility and give the impression you are unprepared or lack knowledge on the topic. Similarly, words or phrases such as “like,” “right” “y’know” or “literally” add no real value and water down the effectiveness of your message.
For those of us who, like, totally can’t seem to shake the non-words, here are some tools of the trade to, um, literally beef up the professional substance of your conversations or presentations:
Define the where and when. Determine under what circumstances you tend to employ non-words. For most, use of “um” and “er” surfaces when we are nervous or under pressure. By identifying these trigger times, you’ll bring more awareness to your speech.
Pause. Every time you feel the need to use a non-word, pause. It may feel awkward, but your audience will hardly notice.
Breathe. Another tactic is to stop and breathe when you sense a non-word coming.
Slow down. Even a minor reduction in pace will help your brain catch up with your mouth. The added benefit is that your audience may find it easier to follow and stay with you.
Prepare. We can’t emphasize this point enough. The more you practice and prepare, the more at ease and confident you will be with the content of your presentation and the less likely you will need fillers to bridge gaps.
Complete elimination of filler or non-words may not be realistic, but this is a skill you can learn. If you can replace most of the “ums” and “likes” with pauses, the outcome will be a polished presentation.