Created :
May 2, 2023
|Updated :
May 9, 2023
Written By :
Rohit Wankhade

No More Filler Words (um, ah,): 09 Tips To Break Awkward Silences

Table of Contents
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    In public speaking, silence is scary!

    You feel it is the start of forgetting.

    You struggle to find the right words.

    And you rush to fill that awkward silence with “umm, ahs, you know” without realising.

    But let me inform you, filler words are just as bad as awkward silences.

    This blog is your go-to guide for avoiding filler words.

    You’ll learn 9 handy techniques to break awkward silences in public speaking. These tips will help you sound more polished, professional, and articulate.

    (And know how silence can be comforting!).

    So let's dive in and say goodbye to those filler words once and for all!

    Using Filler Words In Speech


    • Awkward Silences in Public Speaking
      - Why do you face awkward silences?
      - Do awkward silences mean incompatibility?
    • Why You Should Avoid Using Filler Words?
      - What are Filler Words?
      - The negative effects of fillers
    • 09 Tips To Break Awkward Silences Without Fillers
    • How To Get Comfortable With Silence?
    • Takeaways

    Awkward Silences in Public Speaking

    An awkward silence is a moment of quietness when you don’t know what to say.

    It’s an uncomfortable pause.

    It can happen in a conversation or speech delivery.

    And even in non-verbal communication when someone is unsure how to react.

    Two People Experiencing Awkward Silence

    Awkward silences cause stress and anxiety in social situations. Since we are expected to talk.

    But you might stumble over words in any situation. While talking to a stranger, in a group setting, or even with friends & family.

    But why do you face awkward silences?

    Here are some reasons:

    • Running out of things to say — You can't think of anything else to talk about.
    • Feeling uncomfortable or nervous — Like in a job interview.
    • Not knowing how to respond to a comment or question — Imagine not getting a joke.
    • Being distracted & Not paying attention  — When you are suddenly caught off guard.
    • Feeling shy or introverted — You may find it hard to sustain a conversation
    • Being unsure of the topic being discussed — You don’t have enough knowledge.
    • Due to Power Dynamics — You may hesitate to speak up in front of your Boss.
    • Cultural Differences — You may find 4 secs long pause awkward, while the Japanese people feel totally comfortable with even an 8-second pause.

    But do awkward silences mean you are stupid?

    No. Absolutely not.

    Incompatibility between two people

    It's okay to be self-conscious about awkward silences. It's normal to have lulls in conversation.

    But they don't indicate intelligence. Here’s why:

    • Compatibility is complex. It can't be assessed by one conversation.
    • Silence can actually be comfortable. It may indicate a strong connection between two people.
    • It just could be a sign of a different communication style.
    • Shyness in the first meeting can cause awkward silences.
    • Some topics of conversation can be difficult to maintain.
    • Awkward silences may make you more relatable.

    So, don’t jump to conclusions about smartness based on one or a few awkward silences.

    Take the time to get to know the person.

    Know their communication style before making any judgments.

    Why You Should Avoid Using Filler Words?

    What Are Filler Words?

    You often use filler words in a speech to avoid an awkward silence.

    Filler words or phrases don’t add any meaning to your speech.

    Filler Words or Verbal Crutches

    Most common fillers include:

    "um," "ah," "like," "you know," "so," and "actually.”

    These fillers are also called Crutch words.

    Why? Simply because you use them as a crutch when you fall while speaking.

    Nimdzi linguistic filler study 2018

    Research shows an average speaker uses 5 filler words per minute. While a good public speaker uses 1 filler word every minute.

    Many great speakers unconsciously use filler words. For example, Oprah Winfrey has admitted to using filler words like "you know" and "kind of" in her speech. She is even known for inventing her own words (watch here).

    Using filler words may help you gather thoughts and sound more natural.

    But their excessive use hinders clarity (the most important aspect of communication) and fluency in communication.

    Negative Effects of Using Filler Words:

    Here’s why you should avoid using filler words or phrases:

    • Miscommunication: 😕
      If you keep using fillers while explaining a complex idea, the listener might find it difficult to understand your point.
    • Distracting & Annoying: 😖
      Using "um" and "ah" frequently can distract the listener. It may be annoying, leading to impatience with you. Your speaking will fail to engage your audience.
    • Decreases Credibility: 👎🏻
      The frequent use of fillers may indicate you are not confident in what you are saying. Or you have no expertise on the topic. This impression hampers your credibility.
    • Difficulty Conveying Emotion: 🥱
      Filler phrases weaken the impact of emotions. Imagine you are narrating a story, but your crutch words break the flow continuously. The listener will find it hard to engage with your experience.
    • Fluency: 🗣️
      Using too many filler words impacts your English fluency. You may come across as a bad communicator. It reduces the effectiveness of your communication. You sound unclear and underconfident. In a professional setting, it may undermine your authority.

    Effective communication is the number one skill for success. Imagine your colleagues, clients, and superiors finding you difficult to understand.

    It will cost you important deals, better opportunities, and productivity.

    In Short, using filler words Curbs Career Growth: 📈

    Limited Career Growth

    So, filler words to awkward silences are a big NO!!

    But how to stop saying umm, ah, like, you know?

    Well, there are ways you can avoid awkward silences without filler words.

    And position yourself for greater success in your career.

    Let’s dive in:

    09 Tips To Break Awkward Silences Without Fillers

    Using fillers may seem like an easy way to keep the conversation going.

    That’s because you don’t know other effective ways.

    Break Awkward Silence Without Filler Words

    Here are 09 techniques to stay away from filler words during an awkward silence:

    1. Listen actively: 👂🏻

    Pay attention to the other person's words. And take time to process what they're saying.

    By doing so, you'll avoid the need to fill the silence with filler words such as "um" or "uh.”

    For instance, if someone asks you a question, listen carefully.

    Wait for a few seconds to gather your thoughts.

    And then respond with a concise and well-constructed answer.

    2. Speak slowly: 🗣️

    Speaking too fast leads to filling silences with crutch words.

    By speaking slowly, you’ll have more time to gather your thoughts. You’ll be more comfortable with the gaps between your sentences.

    And you’ll also have more clarity in your speech.

    3. Use body language: 🧍🏻

    Nonverbal cues like nodding, smiling, or making eye contact keep your listener engaged in the conversation. So, you don’t need filler words to hold their attention.

    Focusing on your body language also helps you stay in the moment. The lesser distracted you are, the better you articulate.

    4. Use pauses intentionally: ▶️

    When you feel the urge to use a filler word, pause for a moment instead. Take a deep breath, and then respond without a filler word.

    Strategic pauses allow you to collect your thoughts.

    Don’t worry, pauses of a few seconds seem very natural. No one would think you’ve forgotten what to say next.

    In fact, you look more thoughtful, and a pause will add weight to your speech.

    Check our video on how to use pauses effectively in speech.

    5. Ask Open-Ended Questions:

    Open-ended questions can’t be answered with simple yes or no.

    So, asking open-ended questions keeps the conversation flowing.

    Without the need for filler words.

    Open questions encourage the listener to share more. And in the meantime, you get more time to articulate your thoughts.

    Look at the example here.

    1. A: "Did you enjoy the movie?"B: "Yeah, it was good."A: “Umm, ah, yeah, okay”
    2. A: "What did you think of the movie?"B: "I really enjoyed the plot and the characters, but I thought the pacing was a little slow in the middle. Overall though, it was a great movie."C: Yeah, I found it a bit slow too. And did you like the ending?

    6. Use Humor: 😄

    Humor puts both you and your listener at ease. It instantly reduces any nervousness that might be causing filler words.

    As you get relaxed, you stop rushing through the conversation.

    So, if you find yourself stumbling over your words, try making a witty remark or cracking a joke. It will help you regain your composer.

    Note - Your humor should be context appropriate.

    7. Be concise: 🤏🏻

    The most common reason for the use of filler words — Rambling or going off-topic.

    The solution is to keep your responses short and to the point.

    You'll also make it easier for the other person to understand your point.

    Talking more doesn’t mean better conversation. Don’t take that pressure.

    That pressure leads to nervousness and awkward silences.

    Instead, be more relaxed, and let things go naturally.

    Here’s an example:

    Rambling -

    "Well, umm, ah, I was thinking maybe we could go out to eat tonight. You know, there's this new restaurant that just opened up, like…but, but I'm not sure if it's any good. (Silence) you know, it's supposed to have really good Italian food, though. I mean, umm, ah, I'm not a huge fan of Italian food, but I'm willing to try it if you are.  So,…What do you think?”

    Concise statement -

    "Let's try the new Italian restaurant tonight. It has a great atmosphere and good reviews. What do you think?”

    8. Be prepared: 🗒️

    If you know you'll be engaging in a conversation, prepare yourself beforehand.

    If you are meeting a new client, keep some conversation starters ready.

    Write down key points, and gather your thoughts.

    By being prepared, you'll feel more confident. And avoid using filler words.

    9. Improve self-awareness: 🧠

    Lastly, pay attention to the times when you use filler words the most.

    Being mindful helps you catch yourself when you're about to use a filler word.

    And make a conscious effort to avoid it.

    For example, you could pause. And take a deep breath before responding.

    Or slow down your speech to give yourself more time.

    By following these tips, you'll be well on your way to speaking more confidently.

    That, too, without relying on filler words to fill silences.

    Remember, the more you practice speaking without filler words, the easier it becomes.

    Well, practicing alone can get difficult on a daily basis.

    That’s where BBR English comes in.

    BBR offers you Live 1:1 sessions with a personal mentor. The private sessions let you learn and practice communication consistently. At your convenience.

    Also, instant feedback from experts boosts your English fluency.

    Don’t let your poor speaking skills hamper your career. Get a personal mentor.

    Book a counseling session today!

    How To Get Comfortable With Silence?

    "I have often regretted my speech, never my silence." - Xenocrates

    Silence is a natural part of communication.

    It feels uncomfortable or awkward only if you're not used to using it. Silence can be incredibly powerful when used effectively.

    Get comfortable with silence in public speaking.

    Silence in public speaking has many benefits.

    • It can connect you with your audience
    • Emphasize important points
    • Help you stay in control
    • Make you a more dynamic speaker

    By using intentional pauses and moments of silence,

    you can create a deeper connection with your audience.

    So, when you're tempted to fill the silence with filler words, try to be comfortable with the discomfort that arises.

    Embrace the silence as a chance to listen & connect with the other person.

    Here’s how you can get comfortable with silence.

    • Start small
      Begin by incorporating a few pauses in your conversation or presentation.
      - And gradually build up from there.
    • Practice mindfulness
      Take a few minutes each day to practice mindfulness.
      - And focus on your breathing.
      - This will help you feel more comfortable with silence. And more present in the moment.

    With practice and persistence, you’ll overcome discomfort with silence over time.


    Here are some key takeaways from our post:

    💡An awkward silence is an uncomfortable pause in conversation or presentation.
    💡Awkward silences are caused by discomfort, distraction, shyness, lack of knowledge, etc.
    💡An Awkward silence doesn't indicate incompatibility between the people.
    💡Filler words hinder effective communication, affecting clarity and fluency.
    💡Excessive use of filler words may curb your career growth.
    💡Use active listening, use body language, strategic pauses, & humor to avoid using filler words.
    💡Embrace the silence as a chance to listen & connect with the other person.

    Thank you for reading!

    We hope this post will help you get rid of using filler words during awkward silences.

    If you've got any more questions or insight, feel free to drop them in the comments below!

    Table of Contents
      Want to improve your Communication Skills?
      Get a Personal Coach and Speak Fluent English in less than 3 months. Start by taking a 60 minutes Private Counselling Session to know your current English level. (Counselling session costs Rs 499, but the fee is 100% refundable if you don't like the session - No Questions Asked)
      Book Counselling
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