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June 03, 2022

Um… It’s Like… Time To Stop Saying ‘Um’

Seems like filler words have become part of everyday life. Whether it’s “um”, “like”, “so”, “you know”, or something else—many people are peppering filler words and phrases into all types of conversations without even thinking about it. In fact, they fly out of their mouths with such regularity that they often fly under the radar—until we outgrow our teenage years, that is.

So, what now? Learning how to stop saying “like” and “um” isn’t easy because it’s a habit that’s ingrained into our minds—and even our culture. They’re like mini filibusters that keep everyone safely at bay until we transition to our next thought. Regardless, it’s important to eliminate them in order to improve communication skills and effectively speak to others like adults.

“They’re like mini filibusters that keep everyone at bay until we transition to our next thought.”

Whether you’re giving a presentation, hosting a conference call, or just talking one-on-one with a friend—here are some quick tips to help you say what you mean—and mean what you say:

  1. Just listen to yourself. We all have filler words and phrases we use in conversation, but sometimes we don’t realize just how often until somebody points it out. The best way to truly hear what others hear is to record yourself speaking to someone, then listen back to it. For example, if you’re hosting a conference call, record it next time. If you’re planning a presentation, use one of those built-in coaching tools that evaluates things like filler words and offer suggestions. (HINT: A good coaching tool will also detect informal speech, euphemisms, culturally sensitive terms, and even when you’re being overly wordy.) Keep a running count of how often you say things like “like”, “um”, and “uh” in regular conversation. Chances are, you’ll be shocked.

  2. Don’t fear the sound of silence. Sometimes we use filler words because we’re nervous about having “dead air” in a conversation. Pausing for a brief second can make you feel like you’re going to lose control of the conversation—or create one of those uncomfortable moments where you and the other person try to talk at the same time. While these concerns are valid, it’s a small price to pay to be able to speak more clearly, concisely, and directly to those you speak with personally and professionally. Use a brief pause to think of the next words you want to say without using a filler word, and you’ll sound much more confident. In addition, your answer will sound much more thoughtful when you leave out the filler words.

  3. Look ’em in the eye. Looking people in the eye when you’re talking to them is a sign of respect, whether it’s during a conversation, meeting, or presentation. It shows that you’re engaged and it helps keep the conversation real. Making eye contact also makes you more self-aware of your own body, words, and actions—which makes it easier to avoid using filler words.

  4. Slow your roll. It’s easy to get talking fast when you’re excited about a conversation you’re having or topic you’re covering. Sometimes, our mouths move faster than our brain, which leads to more “ums” than we would like. Slow the pace when you speak, so you’ll have more time to think about your words. You’ll also notice that you have fewer uncomfortable pauses in the conversation, which can have a calming effect.

  5. Know your filler triggers. Not all of us use filler words for the same reasons. Sometimes we’re not confident in our ability to hold a conversation, other times we speak faster than we can think, or maybe we’re simply too relaxed and casual. If you want to be better about not using filler words, be honest about why you use them and work on it.

It won’t happen overnight, but if you start following these easy tips—before you know it— those “ums”, “likes”, “you knows”, “uhs”, and “wells” will be a thing of the past.

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