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How to Reduce “Ums”, “Ahs” and Filler Words

“How can I speak with fewer ‘ums’ and ‘ahs’?”

It’s a question I hear in every communication program I teach.

Maybe you can relate.

I’m reminded of a recent experience.

Earlier this month my husband and I traveled to Buffalo NY for a family wedding. While there we did a little touring, including a visit to one of Frank Lloyd Wright’s homes.

As soon as the tour guide started talking I shut off my head set.

Every, um, other, ah, word, so, was, um, filler.

And it became really hard to listen even though her information was interesting.

The problem with “Ums” and “Ahs”

“Ums” and “Ahs” are not “good” or “bad”, “right” or “wrong”. In fact, some experts suggest they’re helpful – giving speakers a chance to collect their thoughts and make what comes after the “um” or “ah” more memorable.

It’s when your presentation or conversation is littered with them – think every other word or close to it – and audiences notice, that they become a distraction.

Where do they come from?

Before doing anything about them, it’s important to understand where they come from. Here’s a short list…

  • Nervous
  • Feeling frazzled, distracted or unable to focus
  • Don’t know the content as well as we should
  • Uncomfortable with silence
  • To put emphasis on other words (i.e., she gave, like, 3 presentations last week)
  • Stall for time and keep control of the “talking space”

So, what can you do about “ums” and “ahs”?

  • Be aware. While “ums” and “ahs” are the most popular, other filler words including “like”, “and”, “so”, “kind of”, “you know” can also become a distraction. Watch a video of your presentation or ask a trusted friend or colleague for feedback to become more aware of “ums”, “ahs” and filler words.
  • Get comfortable with pauses. Instead of filling silence with “ummm”, focus on taking a full inhale and exhale in between key points. The silence lasts only a few seconds. It gives you a chance to collect your thoughts before speaking again and your audience a chance to take in what you just said.
  • Sip water. If silence is really uncomfortable, take a sip of water. Even though the action creates silence, you’re doing something and that can feel more comfortable and let them know you’re still speaking.
  • Stop Focusing on Filler Words. Fretting over “ums” and “ahs” puts the focus on YOU, the presenter. Instead, focus on creating the best presentation and experience you can for your audience.
  • Make time to practice. If you really want to reduce “ums” and “ahs” and sound more professional, credible, trustworthy, compelling, persuasive, etc, make time to prepare and practice. Practicing out loud is a key, and often overlooked, component to improving verbal communication.

We’re human. And sometimes we, um, need time to think about what we want to say. So, ah, stop worrying so much. Instead, focus on how you can, like, communicate and connect more effectively and naturally with others.

Now it’s your turn to, um, talk to me

  1. Do filler words drive you crazy?
  2. How many did you use in your last presentation?
  3. What tips and tricks do you use to reduce them?

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