How to Eliminate the “Ums” and “Ahhs” from Your Talk

What Are Fillers? 

Fillers are an unplanned interruption to your talk. A disturbance in the flow of speech, by a pause, repetition of a word or syllable, all unplanned. Often these gaps are filled by an “um” or “ahh” which acts as a space filler for thinking space and cuts up the flow of your speech. How we can learn to eliminate the “Ums” and “Ahhs” from your speech and talk is a key focus below.

What is the Impact?

Listening to a speaker using lots of filler can interrupt the flow and focus for both audience member and speaker. The constant stopping and starting between ideas can negatively impact the clarity of the message. Further adding a hesitant sounding “um” can suggest a lack of conviction.

These little verbal tics are like debris in between your sentences and can turn a perfectly structured speech into one that feels uncertain and unconfident.

It’s this vocal garbage that is one of the big barriers preventing many new leaders and managers from communicating confidently and effectively. The impact can be business or career suicide! So it’s critical to understand why such habits can creep into our speech patterns and how we can learn to eliminate the “Ums” and “Ahhs” from our speech.  

Why We Use Fillers

People have been filling silences with neutral vowel sounds like “um”, “ahh”, “uh” for as long as language has been around. (Somewhere around 100,000 years!)

It may seem strange they’ve survived given the dislike by listeners. The fact that every language appears to have their own version of these verbal tics points to their universally accepted use.

In fact, recent studies have shown that the use of “um” and “uh” actually plays a significant role in how we learn language. It was found that children were more likely to pay attention to unfamiliar objects if the speaker used “uh” before pointing to it.

This seemed to indicate to the child that there was a new and unknown object being introduced, so they listened more intently. You can see how these “ums” and “uhs” begin in early development and can be carried through into the way we communicate. You might find yourself using them to pause before introducing new and complicated ideas. Maybe they’ll pop up when talking about something you find slightly uncomfortable, or difficult to communicate. Or when introducing an idea that you find confusing yourself and may be hard for your audience to grasp.

Why We Shouldn’t Use Them

Using these fillers can make the speaker appear unprepared, even anxious and underconfident. Conversely, audiences respect someone who doesn’t fill natural silences with lots of chatter or excess sounds.

A speaker who isn’t afraid to let a silence hang in the air does two things:

a) Builds suspense and gives significance to what they’re about to say;

b) Prove that they’re not afraid to make their audience wait. What they’re about to say is important, and deserves to be treated accordingly. They demonstrate a sort of verbal alphaism, because they know their ideas are worth hearing.

On the flip side, the speaker who is too afraid to let that silence hang, who appears afraid of pauses and needs to fill their speech with vocal garbage.

Their talk can come across as unsure, flustered and easily discounted. Most people aren’t even aware that they use “ums” and “ahhs” as much as they do.

Why don’t you practice trying to count the number of times you or someone else uses these verbal tics in a conversation. You’ll be surprised at how often they find their way into a speech or conversation!

What To Do Instead Of Fillers 

The first step towards fixing the problem is being aware of it. Observe your delivery, record it, ask for feedback from others and take steps to build your new speaking skills.

Below are a few ideas showing how we can learn to eliminate the “Ums” and “Ahhs” from our talks.

  • When you’re reading and you come across a “full-stop” at the end of the sentence, you know you need to stop for a moment. In the same way, you stop when you come to the end of a sentence during your speech.
  • If you leave your mouth open whilst doing so, you’re allowing the sounds to keep coming out, which is what makes these “um and ahh” sound.
  • So, practice closing your mouth at the ends of sentences, and stop these sounds from escaping.
  • Imagine that a fly is buzzing around your face, and you have to stop it getting in – it might feel silly at first, but this needs reinforcing in your mind until it becomes a habit. Learn to pause confidently, and then to close your mouth!
  • Don’t be afraid to take the trash out! You don’t need to rely on fillers and verbal rubbish to keep people’s attention.
  • Be confident in what you’re saying; always be prepared and make sure you know your subject-matter inside-out.
  • Get enrolled on a credible programme with a high impact coach Building new skills will fast track your abilities to across as an effective and confident communicator. 

Never be afraid to pause and let a silence hang for a second. It’ll let your audience know that what you have to say is important and worth waiting for!

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