“Um, hi there. Soooo, my talk will be about, you know, how to, aahh, speak better.”
Would you actually stay for the rest of the presentation?
Filler words often crop into a presentation when the speaker is nervous about being in front of an audience, or is not completely familiar with the material. Or it may just be a habit from casual conversation – for example, at the risk of dating myself, the use of like (as in, “When I heard that, I was like, you’re kidding!”).
Examples of filler words include um, ah, you know. Other words are sometimes legitimate – but not when they are over-used, such as starting every sentence with so, or using and to connect each an every thought, which is the speaking equivalent of a run-on sentence.
Do you use filler words? Awareness is the first step to solve the problem.
The best form of self-evaluation is to record your presentations, either video or just the audio. Then listen to the recording, and make a note of how often you use a filler word. You might also note whether this occurs in particular places in your presentation more than in others – maybe you use filler words more often in the Q&A section. You may also over-use certain phrases, including if you will, really or basically.
At a Toastmasters club meeting, one of the roles is that of the “Ah counter,” who simply counts the number of times a speaker uses each filler word. Most clubs also have an informal rule – if you go beyond a certain number of ahs and ums, you will be told that “your filler word is so” or “you used more than five ums.” Especially for a novice speaker, he or she does not want to hear they used um 27 times and you know 12 times.
I once attended a presentation of an obviously nervous speaker, who said um-ah at the end of every sentence. Putting my Toastmasters hat on, I wondered whether each use would be counted as one or two filler words (the um and the ah). While the presentation contained good information, the verbal tic made it almost impossible for me to concentrate on the content.
The primary goal is to ensure that you are not distracting your audience. When you notice that you overuse a filler word, try speaking slower, and substitute a pause instead of a filler word. Don’t worry – pausing will not mean you will lose your audience. Quite the opposite, it also gives them time to digest your words.
When it comes to filler words, it is an admirable goal to completely erase them from your presentations. Realistically, though, you just need to keep their use under control to ensure that they are not distracting, which will allow your listeners to focus on your message.
Find out more about meeting roles here: http://www.d4tm.org/Toastmasters/meeting.php