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Lewis D. Chaney

published on August 19, 2019 - 1:57 PM
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I, uh, wanted to, you know, maybe, like, ah, talk to you about the uh, need, for, um,….

If I wrote this article this way, full of filler words, you wouldn’t read it. Yet people speak this way all the time and don’t realize they are doing it. They are ear-blind to their own words.

I have been pioneering the point that filler words are killer words which cost you the most valuable asset you have and that is your time, not to mention the time of your audience.

Let’s face some facts here. Basic public speaking is just that: Basic. Why would you go into an extraordinary opportunity armed with “basic” skills? Where else does that logic apply?

It is costing companies millions of dollars, and these are just the tip of the iceberg. Improving communication skills is crucial.

I recently watched an interview with a woman on a local television station who was doing a live interview. I caught the replay online and recorded the audio. I cut out the commentator, focusing just on this woman. She spoke for three minutes and eleven seconds and used over 70 filler words which cost her thirty seven seconds of her time. Had she been giving a thirty minute presentation, at this rate, she would have lost over six minutes to filler words. I edited it down to just those fillers, and it’s painful to listen to it: lewisdchaney.com/what-filler-words-really-sound-like/

Here are three steps to help erasing these from your vocabulary:

  • REHEARSE

“Oh, I’ll just wing it” are five deadly presentation words.

DO NOT put your speech in a slide deck and read. It’s boring, lazy and insulting. A colleague went to a conference where the lead speaker did exactly that. At the first break, she went to the organizer and told her that, by having someone read to the group, it was a waste of time. The information could have been emailed. Then, my colleague left the conference.

What happens when that technological junkyard dog bites you and your slide deck goes down? The brakes and steering just went out on your presentation and you are bound to crash.

Know your stuff. Whether you write it out and memorize some or all of it; whether it’s in note form; or you just rehearse it so much you know what you are going to say. It can be a blend of these things.

It’s not a recital. If you memorize, don’t be monotone and rote. It’s called a speech not a reading. Doing this is almost as agonizing as the slide deck. Glance at your notes but don’t carry them around. It makes you look unprofessional.

  • RECORD YOURSELF

The surefire method for knowing how much you use filler words, filler phrases and crutch words is to record yourself speaking when you rehearse. I would encourage you to record yourself when giving a presentation as well. That doesn’t mean just a formal one, but in other conversations, phone calls or meetings.

Then go back and listen to it. Time it for one minute and see how many “ahs, ums, likes, so’s, and’s, but’s,” and such that you have in there. The average person does it 5 times a minute, that’s every 12 seconds, and even that is too much. Make notes of where it happened and try to figure out WHY it happened. Did you lose your train of thought? Forget a point? Are you using notes or trying to memorize? Can you not get off the page without those words sliding in?

By now, the chances are high you are starting to hear yourself say them and that’s the first step. I challenge you to become a better listener and hear other people saying them. Once you tune into that and hear how annoying and wasteful these are, you will become more aware of it in your own speaking pattern.

  • STOP, DROP AND PAUSE

From your elementary school days, if you catch fire, you “stop, drop and roll”. It’s ingrained in your brain. When your brain is on fire, your mouth just can’t keep up and you are burning through filler words, here is what you do:

Stop. Just shut-up. Stop talking. You feel it, you know these things are coming; you just don’t let them get from brain to mouth.

Drop. Drop the filler word, filler phrase or crutch word right then, just shove it out of your head.

Pause. Silence is golden because it has value. Pausing allows for the audience to think about what you just said and allows you to think about what you are saying. Don’t fear the silence. Glance at your notes at this point. The audience doesn’t know what you are about to say so, to them, this pause is there for a reason.

But here’s the real trick to it all: Do this all the time, every day. If you remove these fillers from your daily speech, they will be gone in your presentations. You will save time, be more credible and more clearly understood.


Lewis D Chaney has had long, award-winning career, having told tens of thousands of stories in television news, entertainment news, commercial advertising and independent film. In addition, he has trained over 100 journalists and photojournalists and is an award-winning speaker. He is currently a business storytelling consultant and public speaking coach based in Henderson, Kentucky. For more information, visit lewisdchaney.com or linkedin.com/in/lewis-d-chaney/


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