Discussion – 


Filler Words: The problem with um’s and ah’s

One of the tell-tale signs of a nervous speaker is the use of filler words.

Filler words are words or phrases that are used in speaking to fill in gaps or pauses, or to fill up time while thinking of what to say next. Examples of filler words include “um,” “ah,” “like,” “you know,” and “so.”

Filler words are generally considered bad because they can make your speaking sound unprepared or uncertain, and they can distract from the content of your message. They can also make it difficult for your audience to understand what you are saying.

Why are they so bad? Because these words can become crutches that diminish our credibility and distract from our message.  They’re also known as disfluency disruptions and they communicate doubt in the mind of the speaker.

What Are Disfluencies?

Disfluencies are very common. Researchers say that about 20% of “words” in everyday conversation are disfluencies.

Disfluencies are disruptions or breaks in the flow of speech. They can take various forms, such as pauses, repetitions, and word substitutions. Disfluencies are a normal part of human speech and can occur for a variety of reasons, such as when a speaker is searching for the right word, when they are unsure of what to say next, or when they are under stress or anxiety.

There are several types of disfluencies that can occur in speech:

  • Repetitions: Repeating a word or phrase, such as “I, I, I don’t know.”
  • Pauses: A speaker may pause for a longer than usual period of time between words or phrases, or may hesitate with “um” or “ah.”
  • Word substitutions: A speaker may use a filler word or phrase such as “like,” “you know,” or “sort of” when they can’t think of the right word.
  • Reparandum: A speaker may correct themselves mid-sentence, such as “I meant to say ‘book’ not ‘look.'”

Overall, disfluencies are a normal part of human communication and do not necessarily indicate a problem with language or cognition.

However, if a person’s disfluencies are frequent or severe enough to disrupt their communication, they may want to consider seeking help from a speech-language pathologist. And they exist across all cultures:

French: “euh,” “donc,” “genre,” “enfin”

Spanish: “eh,” “bueno,” “pues,” “verdad”

German: “äh,” “ach,” “also,” “ja”

Japanese: “aa,” “eto,” “sou,” “ano”

Um… do I Have Disfluencies?

Yes, just about all of us use filler words in everyday speech. Studies suggest that we verbalize hesitations because we’ve been conditioned to fill the void even when we don’t have something to say. For example, we use “um” and “ah” to signal to the other person that we are still in the middle of a thought and don’t want them to start speaking yet.

The fastest and easiest way to find out if you have trouble in this area is to simply ask a colleague to count your filler words next time you speak.  Or, even better, record yourself speaking in public!

If recording seems like too much effort, just focus, for one full week, on listening, really listening carefully for distracters when you talk.

Trust me, after a week of listening, or recording and listening, you’ll have become acutely aware of your specific problems.  And that’s exactly what you need; awareness. You need to be able to hear your disfluencies in your mind before you blurt them out.

So, what’s the problem?

Just about all of us use filler words when we speak in front of a group.

Filler words are not necessarily “bad” in and of themselves. In fact, they can serve a useful purpose in communication by giving a speaker time to gather their thoughts, emphasize a point, or indicate a change in topic.

However, excessive use of filler words can make speech sound less confident, less clear, and less engaging. It can also make a speaker sound less competent or less knowledgeable on a subject.

For this reason, filler words are often discouraged in formal or professional settings, where clear and concise communication is important.

Filler words are much more obvious when we are on stage.  when , we don’t want to do the same thing when we speak from the stage.  When we speak from the stage we should instead insert pauses.

How to stop using filler words

Surprisingly, once people are made aware of their filler words, they are able to eradicate them pretty quickly.

The first step is forcing yourself to use pauses and silence.  A simple exercise is to practice speaking to video.  Give a simple speech describing your day.  As you speak, use intentional pauses so that you get used to feeling of silence.  Give the speech two or three times and you will see dramatic importance.

The second step is to increase the amount of practice time before your next speech.  Nerves are one of the biggest reasons people overuse vocal fillers. The less prepared you are, the more nervous you’ll be, which will likely cause you to speak too quickly, trip over your words, and forget what’s next.