I think we all use filler speech occasionally. Those are words like “um,” “so,” “you know,” “ah,” and “like.” Some people use them more than others. But in regular conversation, it’s OK. People who use a lot of filler speech take a little extra time to get their point across. But they get there eventually. And research has shown that they tend to be more thoughtful and conscientious than those who don’t use filler speech when they talk. So, like, it’s fine.

But there is a time when using a lot of filler speech is NOT fine – and that’s when you’re speaking publically. If you use a lot of filler speech during a presentation, your audience will react negatively. Research indicates that your audience will do the following:

  • Have difficulty figuring out what you’re actually trying to say
  • View you as distracted, nervous, untrustworthy, and inauthentic
  • Get distracted and start thinking about other things

So how can you avoid using these “verbal crutches”? According to Noah Zandan, you need to get comfortable with silence. Every time you feel like saying “um” or “like,” simply pause instead.

There’s no need to fill in every gap with a word or sound. During a speech, pauses are actually very effective. Not only do they give you a chance to gather your thoughts and take a few deep breaths (if you’re feeling anxious). They also make you sound relaxed and confident. They can be used to build suspense and emphasize a certain key point. And they give your audience the chance to absorb and process what you’re saying.

So how can you stop using filler speech and start pausing instead? Zandan recommends that you videotape yourself giving your presentation to identify the types of filler words that you tend to use. And then, after that, you need to practice replacing those words with pauses. Run through your presentation over and over until you’ve succeeded in removing the filler words. Preparation and practice is key.


Zandan, N. (2018, August 1). How to stop saying “um,” “ah,” and “you know”. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from: https://hbr.org/2018/08/how-to-stop-saying-um-ah-and-you-know?utm_medium=email&utm_source=newsletter_daily&utm_campaign=mtod_not_activesubs&referral=00203&deliveryName=DM15924