One of the most common questions I receive is how to get rid of filler words: um, ah, you know, like, so, kind of, sort of, and more. It doesn’t matter what language you speak; every language has its own fillers.

There’s nothing wrong with a few filler words in your speech. Sometimes, they can be an effective way to jump into a meeting or conference call when it’s hard to get a word in otherwise. A well-placed filler such as “well” or “so” can help you wedge your way into a conversation.

But used excessively, filler words can reduce your credibility and authority as a speaker. They literally tell the audience you are unprepared.

They can happen at the beginning of a presentation:

  • So, yeah, let’s get started…

In the middle of a sentence:

  • I’m the, ah, CEO of…

And at the end of a presentation:

  • So, yeah…that’s it, I guess.

Especially when you start or end your presentation with a filler, you lose an opportunity to make a powerful impression on your audience.

So, how do you reduce your filler words? (Those of you who’ve taken my workshops know that my personal filler word is “so”)

  1. Listen for fillers in other people. Every individual has their own preference for fillers, and many times people in one organization will use the same fillers. Listening for those fillers in others will help you recognize and reduce them in your own speech.
  2. Practice with a friend or colleague. Practice with someone who can give you a subtle audible or visual cue (knock on the table or raise their hand) every time they hear a filler word. Use our new worksheet “Catch the Fillers” to find out which words you use most often. Note: do this during practice only, not during the actual presentation.
  3. Practice on your phone. There are applications such as LikeSo and Orai that let you record a practice speech and the app will count the number of filler words. This can be a helpful tool, though those apps don’t catch all the fillers (hopefully they soon will).
  4. Practice your presentation out loud in advance. Take time to practice your presentation out loud to make sure the language sounds smooth and natural to you. If something doesn’t feel right, fix it in the practice stage so you don’t fumble for words on stage.
  5. Consciously pause and breathe instead of using a filler. By physically closing your mouth to breathe during a presentation, you stop yourself from using a filler. That deep breathing also gives more power and impact to your next point.
  6. Practice the power of the pause. Many times, we feel uncomfortable with silence during our presentation. Recognize how powerful a pause can be in creating suspense and causing your audience to lean in for the next thing you say. Note: pauses can be powerful in between phrases, but used excessively they can also cause you to lose momentum.

Remember, it’s OK to have a few filler words; the audience doesn’t expect a perfect speech. But don’t let them distract from the power of your message. The more you practice in advance, the easier it becomes to reduce fillers. Then, when you get in front of an audience, relax and focus on your message, and every word will have impact.