Um, so, you know, um, I think…um, yes, this is a professional advice column about how you can distinguish yourself by speaking more clearly without using filler words. Most people, whether they realize it or not, speak using filler words. Something about silence is bothersome to the point that people make it a habit to add words in their sentences including like, you know, um, so, and uh. Do you use those words regularly?
You will be judged by your speech in job interviews, donor meetings, public events, and even in conversations at receptions and happy hours. It is very important that you speak clearly and articulate your ideas so people can understand without filler words as a distraction. Here are some tips to cut the extra word habit from your speaking:
1. Assess the situation by listening to yourself. You could record yourself talking with your phone or computer and then play it back. Also you should simply keep in mind the extra words when you are talking to people so you consciously refrain and instead pause between words and sentences.
2. Have a friend monitor your speech. Have the person flick the lights on and off every time you use a filler word so you quickly become aware how often you do it. Continue this practice once a week and monitor how you improve.
3. Listen to articulate speakers and study their cadence. You will notice that the most effective speakers do not use any filler words and instead they put silence between their most important points. We are programmed to speak quickly with filler words, but the opposite is actually the best method for communicating clearly. Explore some of the talks on TED and watch the delivery closely.
4. Slow down! Most people talk very quickly but it is simply not necessary. The Bible teaches this in James 1:19 when it says “you should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry.” While the Bible is not a book about public speaking (although I doubt Jesus said um, you know, like, so, and uh very often) it is right on this point. You can practice this by taking a deep breath before you say a sentence and deliberately slowing down the pace. There is no rush – people better understand when you speak slowly and clearly.
5. Never finish your sentence with “so.” The word “so” is a transition that helps you finish a phrase, but many people use it to end their sentences for some reason. Add this to your practice routine described above so you actively think not to say “so” at the end of a sentence.
Roger Custer is executive director of America’s Future Foundation.