Posted by: Bill Griffin | June 21, 2009

Four Great Ways to Avoid Word Fillers

redcross_volunteer This um..ah post is erh..ah intended to umm.. help ahh.. um you umm articulate your ahh   erh..umm.. speaking voice.

 You do it, I do it, everybody does it. Word fillers are conversation killers. They make it so laborious for the listener; their shoulders slump, eyes wander, heads cock, jaws go slack and can even induce drool and fainting from exhaustion and anxiety.

With most human beings having the attention span of a feral ferret, don’t waste your message. Avoid word fillers by knowing why you use them. Public speaking can be the most frightening thing you ever do. It can also be quite invigorating and enjoyable once you realize that you’re, giving information not getting adulation, and adding value not taking credit. Here are four ways I avoided word fillers in the past.

 1.)   Concentration: Usually your mind is on overload and you can’t seem to formulate natural sentences, fumbling for choice words to impress the audience. Keep it simple. Slow down and use words that you know, not words you think you might know. Remember you’re speaking for a reason, find that reason and get back on track.

2.)    Nervousness: There are hundreds of ways to calm yourself quickly and silently. Discover what can easily put you at peace. I usually take a couple slow deliberate breaths and softly mutter something short and positive to myself like “I want to do this,” “I know this stuff” and “I’ll be fine, this is easy”. Fear is an energy that can be twisted into adrenalin, a very powerful ally for speakers.                                             208_nervous_man_biting_his_nails

3.)    Practice: How do you get to Carnegie Hall? The best and the brightest came to be that way only through practice. The Beatles, Tiger Woods, Ted Williams, Yo-Yo Ma are prime examples of people who doggedly practiced their craft. They were not necessarily born with talent, they kept trying to get better at what they do and they did. In many instances through your life you’ll have an audience, large or small, even if you aren’t looking to become a professional speaker, so make your words count.

4.)     Unprepared: Really no excuse for this one, but it does happen. Research your subject matter thoroughly and it’s always a good idea to have a beginning, middle and ending. Keep your ideas formatted and structured. Make an outline of what you want to say so it’s easier to remember, but don’t use it at the engagement, and keep your notes to three points only. Working without a net makes you much more focused on the task at hand. Use your own words and be authentic. If you’re quoting text verbatim folks can tell.

There are thousands or resources out there to help you hone your public speaking skills. I suggest joining a Toastmasters Club or taking Acting or Improv classes or both. If there is an opportunity, participate in community activities that require you to speak to groups of friends and neighbors. Take word fillers out of your everyday speech and replace them with an astute, direct and informative vocabulary. Your audience will be grateful you did.

Share with me your stories of public speaking and word fillers. Who were some of the most memorable orators you’ve ever heard?

(Please remember to roam around this Blog I’m adding something new every posting. Site of the week, new Blog Buddies, Pages, Music, Links and Pictures and as always I appreciate your comments, questions and suggestions.)



  1. Another nice post, Bill. Years ago I was in a Toastmasters chapter and I still, to this day, remember the “Um” can. It was an old, metal coffee can. Every time someone said “Um” in a speech a glass marble was loudly dropped into the can. It broke people of their word fillers quickly and brutally.

    • Thanks Chris,

      In Improv they used to throw socks and styrofoam cups accompanied by lots of boos and jeers if “um” was uttered. In good fun of course but you would learn quickly.

  2. Great topic Bill. I definitely can relate to this blog. It’s good they don’t have an Um can at the TAG meetings!

    • Thank you Michele,

      If we had an “um” cup at a TAG meeting I think people would avoid going. I know I would. I think I blurted 8 “ums” in one 30 second pitch. I’ll definitely chalk that day up to unprepared. My brow is sweating just remembering.

  3. Billy,

    Another good one. I tend not to be bothered so much by the “ums,” but it’s the “you knows” that get me. Once I realize someone has the propensity for uttering incessant “you knows” that becomes all I hear. I’ve counted over 100 on some people. Talk about annoying, though I find myself doing it on occasion too, ya know?

    • Thanks Jim,

      I agree the ya knows are annoying. As well as you know what I mean? Some British have a cultural propensity to end every sentence with a question, don’t they? It drives you mad, doesn’t it? It’s quite ridicules when you think of it, isn’t it? Read this in your best English accent and you’ll know what I’m saying, wont you?

      • ROFL! Bill you are too funny.

  4. Bill, I’m glad I took a couple of minutes to read your blog. Great tips. Slowing it down and knowing your material are key.

    I’ve mentioned to my husband on more than one occasion that I’m so impressed with President Obama. He reads his speeches with such meaning in each word that it’s clear he has done his homework. There’s someone I used to work with who spoke in such a polished manner and I think her secret was thinking about what she wanted to say before she said it. She selected her words carefully and didn’t waste them. (Easier said than done!)

  5. Hi Pauline,

    President Obama is a very good orater, no doubt about it. I remember seeing him on TV in a “town square” Q & A and he had quite a few word fillers. But I imagine if anyone has to choose his words carefully it would be him.

  6. Bill,

    Great tips, I know I could definitely benefit from it as I probably fall into the category that most do in that I am not a fan of public speaking. However, when I defended my thesis at RIT I was pretty comfortable presenting as I presented material I knew very well and had practiced, albeit in front of only 4 people. I will have to keep your tips in mind for the future. Thanks.

    • Thanks Jason,

      Your a point of proof. Once you know the subject material, much of what you have to say falls in line. Wether it be 4 or 400, you HAD to defend your thesis. You had an audience and I’m sure you will again. Kudos to you. Keep defending you ideas.


  7. Billy, nice features on your blog. Looks like you are incorporating a little bit of everything…photo, video, comments, you’ve got your resume even.

    I got stuck on the about page, I couldn’t get back home. You may want to add a home button.

    Good luck and have fun with your blog.

  8. Thank you very much Hannah,

    V-8 moment–Home page! I’m trying to make my blog as interactive as I can. Keep checking back more will be added. By far these comments are the most fun.


  9. Hi Billy,

    I enjoyed reading about the “ah’s” and “um’s” you discussed. In our Toastmasters club, Toasted Sage, we’ve noted that folks use the word “actually” far too frequently as a filler.

    I look forward to reading more of your blogs.

  10. Thank You Judy,

    I believe the word “actually” is only used as a subconscious stalling tactic, till the next thought arrives. Like word fillers, used constantly the word “actually” can be distracting to the listener. Especially if one is speaking in metaphors.

    Here’s a shout out to your club Judy thanks for stopping by.

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