Created :
October 4, 2022
|Updated :
October 14, 2022
Written By :
Pranshu Kaushiik

What are filler words and how to avoid them?

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    Filler words are those redundant words that do not add any value to the conversation, but you might add to cover nervousness or distraction. A speaker unknowingly leans on them as he tries to think through his words or ponder over a question. If he takes a short pause, it will suit him better because the listener would think that the speaker is going to say something important.

    A person stepping out of his comfort zone often feels worked up. He may become nervous and start using redundant words like “Uhm, you know, so, uh, hmm, right, well…” to maintain the flow of his speech. This anxiety may also run deeper for someone speaking in a language he is not too fluent in. Certain situations like public speaking and business presentations may trigger the same response.

    Why do we use filler words?

    It is simple to understand why we use these filler words. Most of us believe we have a clock in our minds. It starts ticking when we speak up about something, especially in front of others, and starts ticking even faster when we take a pause. This distorted sense of timing makes us nervous. We become anxious about the listener’s opinion and stand stuck like a deer in headlights.

    Time runs in two anti-parallel paradigms for speakers and listeners.

    When we take a slight pause while speaking, it sounds like an eternity to us. But the funny thing is that the listener will not even mind because his clock is faster than ours. He would think of our pause as a natural break and assume we were about to say something more substantial. But he will disengage if you use these meaningless fillers in your speech.

    Demerits of using filler words

    Speech disfluency refers to a broader class of filler words’ distractions. It is an umbrella term for slips of the tongue, long pauses, and false starts besides filler words. They are all interrelated, though the worst of them all are filler words.

    Here is why you should not use them:

    1. They negatively affect your credibility
    2. You may not engage your audience positively
    3. The audience senses that you are not being honest with them
    4. Your message loses its effectiveness

    Most of us feel jittery with even half a second of pause. Compare that to some of the world’s best speakers who consciously pause for two to three seconds every minute. They do this deliberately to let the recipient’s mind process their message and filter it through the subconscious. This explains why they leave their audience enthralled with an unforgettable experience every time!

    Scientific research advises you not to use filler words

    A recent study by four students at Brigham Young University highlighted that leaning on filler words only causes more issues than it solves. It affects our credibility and acceptance, making the audience believe we are either inexperienced or unprepared. Either way, audience believe we do not take the occasion of interacting with them as seriously as we should.

    The research highlighted divided attention, foreign words, and nervousness as the three main reasons for using filler words. They interrupt our fluency and force us to add meaningless words to our speech. They also affect our credibility and stature in certain cases.

    1. Divided attention: We may get distracted when a member of the audience does something unanticipated. It may also happen when we talk about many topics in one go. Some interactive sessions may also throw the speaker off guard and lead to the same behavior.
    2. Foreign words: Popular journal ‘International Journal of Language & Communication Disorders’ says that sometimes we may use words borrowed from foreign languages. Since our mind is not used to them, it takes time to process them. This takes some time and we rush in to fill that gap with filler words.
    3. Nervousness: Nervousness results from being preoccupied with others’ opinions instead of ours. Two such occasions are delivering business presentations and public speeches. The latter is one of the most common phobias. We speak much faster to get back into our comfort zone as soon as possible. This often breaks our line of thought and we start using fillers in our speech.

    An AI-based speech analysis firm, Quantified Communications, studied over 4000 voice samples to find a common pattern in the usage of filler words. Its researchers concluded that the safe limit of using filler words is one per minute. However, most of the samples showed the usage of about five to six fillers in the same time duration. This diluted the effectiveness of the message.

    Another research highlights that using too many filler words only makes the speaker appear unprepared for the situation's gravity. A listener may also detest hedge words like, "I don't think it is necessary, but just for the sake of everyone's benefit, I would also say that….". This is a big no-no, especially in business presentations or formal speeches.

    Takeaway: Brevity is the soul of wit.

    Listeners are human too!

    It is important to note that the human mind may think up to 1500 words every minute, though it can only process 10% of it while speaking. This huge gap causes a momentary lapse in our reasoning, and our subconscious mind rushes in to fill it in with meaningless words. (Our subconscious mind is smart enough not to use any word that might affect the meaning of the spoken sentence).

    The next important factor is that listeners are not as mindful or “harsh” as we make them up in our minds. We should thus relax a bit and slow down. It would help us control our nervousness and rate of speech. Rehearsing a presentation or public speech a day before would also help.

    Not being fluent in English could hurt your chances too!

    Working professionals are often the worst affected by this habit. They often have a mental yardstick for measuring their resourcefulness with their peers’ success. Some of them are not too good at spoken or written English, which also shows in their communication. They sometimes use too many fillers and meaningless words, which erodes their effectiveness.Their seniors and subordinates often mimic them and may make fun of them. This sets a cycle of negative self-belief in motion, and not being fluent in English only worsens it. While it may sound too dramatic, there could still be a few such instances around you.

    How not to use filler words?

    If you are a working professional, we recommend starting with some basic and preliminary steps, like noting the filler words you commonly use. You should avoid using them and try to replace them with short and thoughtful pauses. The best way to do this is first to control your nervousness and rate of speech.

    Another technique that always works in the speaker’s favor is ‘Accept the Pause.’ Yes, you should deliberately slow yourself down. This would help you catch your train of thoughts, regain your focus, and make the listener more attentive. You may opt for a pause of a second or two in most cases.

    Did you know? This pause will also help you rethink if you were about to say something inappropriate or unwelcome. Such things may happen in the heat of the moment.

    Here are some other ways to not use filler words:

    1. Never begin speaking unless you know what you want to say next.
    2. Identify the urge to use fillers in your sentences.
    3. Listen to an audio or video recording of yourself. Try to analyze the patterns or situations that make you use ‘Uhm’ and ‘well.’
    4. Control your nervousness by taking deep breaths. Focus on your rate of speech.
    5. Use sticky notes (if possible) in a business presentation or public speech.
    6. Use smaller sentences, and answer questions in the same way.
    7. Rule of Thumb: Prepare, Think, Pause, Think, Speak, Repeat.
    8. Most importantly, resist the urge to speak up when you cannot think of anything else to do!

    If you are planning to give a business preparation or public speech the next day, it would be best to rehearse it a few times today. You could also take its dry run with your friends or take some notes with you on stage.

    Are you a working professional? Here’s how you can get rid of fillers!

    You should not let your busy schedule stop you from learning. We welcome you to sign up for our multiple LIVE, one-to-one online sessions with a qualified professional at a time of your choice. They are designed for working professionals like you who may not have enough time for personal growth.

    For example, you may enroll in our Fluency in English Communication course. It would comprise ten to fourteen virtual sessions by an experienced mentor who will help you learn English grammar and its vocabulary and improve your communication skills. You may use these interactions to rise above your weaknesses and emerge as a professional with excellent communication skills.

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