Filler words are, like, ruining your credibility.

The optimal frequency for filler words is one per minute, but the average speaker uses five filler words per minute (or one every twelve seconds).

We all have our go-to’s:

  • Like
  • Um
  • So
  • Uhhh
  • Ummm

The problem is that there are significant negative impacts tied to our overuse of filler words. Let’s look at three key issues.

Problem #1: You sound nervous or distracted, even if you aren’t. 

While it’s acceptable to use filler words more frequently in casual conversation with friends, these crutch words take on a different weight when used to deliver a presentation, argue a point in a meeting, or have a meaningful conversation with a manager. 

Instead of sounding casual, we sound distracted and nervous when filler words creep into professional conversations. We’re perceived as less confident, and our arguments are taken less seriously.

It’s far easier to curtail our filler word tendencies across all environments we operate in — personal and professional — than to attempt to shift habits throughout our day based on who we’re talking with.

Problem #2: You become less interesting. 

When someone is an expert storyteller or speaker, audiences hang on their every word. The speaker can tap into emotions through the power of their words and delivery. 

When someone uses filler words, their message becomes less engaging and evocative. The audience tunes out. 

Problem #3: You lose the attention of your audience. 

Our brains are muscles, so they intuitively work to preserve energy. Research shows that it takes more cognitive effort to filter through crutch words, so our brains instinctively take on less cognitively demanding tasks. When a speaker uses these filler words, the audience focuses on thoughts that require less mental energy, such as thinking about what we want to eat for dinner that night. 

Kick Your Filler Words Habit 

We know we shouldn’t use filler words, but to stop using them is easier said than done.

Here are three helpful tricks to kick your filler words habit:

Know what your filler words are. You can’t fix a problem when you don’t know what the problem is. Ask friends and family to tell you what your crutch words are. Are you someone who overuses “like?” Or, are you constantly sneaking in “Ummm?”

Practice pausing. Slowing down, taking a deep breath, and becoming comfortable with silence allows us to become more intentional with our word choice. Pausing gives our brain time to construct our thoughts, so we select words that best convey our ideas.

Record yourself. We develop acute self-awareness when we listen and watch ourselves. If you find yourself with an important presentation coming up, it’s helpful to record yourself going through the presentation 3-5 times. After each recording, count the number of filler words you use. The number of filler words should decrease as comfortability with the materials increases. 

Summary

No one is perfect, and we can all take a more intentional approach to our communication. By investing in yourself by actively working to reduce your filler words, you’ll increase your credibility, persuasiveness, and impact.