Eliminating Filler Words

… a core concept in Communication Skills and Atlas 109

FillerWordsConcept description

Persuasive speakers avoid using filler words, such as um, uh, and you know.

In his article, How to Stop Saying Um, Uh, and Other Filler Words (reference below), Andrew Dlugan advises that speakers should strive to minimize fillers (sounds such as um, ah, mm; words such as basically, actually, literally; phrases such as “I think that,” “you know,” “what I am trying to say is”) because they contribute nothing, and weaken your effectiveness as a speaker in two primary ways:

  • Fillers represent verbal static that has to be filtered out by your audience. Why say it if the audience has to immediately filter it out?
  • Repeated and excessive use of fillers weakens your credibility. It may be perceived as indicating lack of preparation, lack of knowledge, or lack of passion. All of these perceptions are bad for you.
Dlugan’s strategy for removing filler words

Andrew Dlugan recommends the following course of action:

  1. Assess how often you are using filler words (e.g., by recruiting an audience member to keep track; by recording your voice; and by recording yourself on video).
  2. Understand why you are doing it, and why it is unnecessary. Fillers are inserted when our brain needs a moment to catch up to our mouth.
  3. Raise your level of preparation. Filler usage is highest when preparation is lowest because your brain needs to create words on the fly, as opposed to pulling them from memory and you are (usually) more nervous when unprepared. Feeling nervous makes most people speak quicker, thus making it more likely that your brain won’t keep up.
  4. Slow down. Slowing your pace will also reduce those um’s and ah’s, because it makes it easier for your brain to keep up.
  5. Embrace the pause. Just pause and replace the filler word(s) with silence.
  6. Monitor your progress, and be patient. Every so often, step back and monitor your progress. Revisit the assessment tasks in Step 1, and compare the results.

Bryan Toder, 2015, How to stop using filler words when you talk, 3-minute video, at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8enBJt5vyto, accessed 30 January 2016.

Kimberley Pace, 2013, Remove Filler Words, 2-minute video, at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X9zR95oxf7w, accessed 30 January 2016.

Selena Rezvani, 2014, Four Ways to Stop Saying “Um” And Other Filler Words, Forbes, at http://www.forbes.com/sites/work-in-progress/2014/12/17/four-ways-to-stop-saying-um-and-other-filler-words/#5362d94553c5, accessed 30 January 2016.


Drawn from Andrew Dlugan, 2011, How to Stop Saying Um, Uh, and Other Filler Words, at http://sixminutes.dlugan.com/stop-um-uh-filler-words/, accessed 30 January 2016.

Normed topic and synthetic course with which the concept is primarily associated

This concept is primarily associated with the core normed topic Speaking to Persuade and is included in the synthetic course outline Atlas109 Leadership and Communication Skills.

Page created by: Ian Clark, last modified on 2 February 2016.

Image: Cropped from Somewhere in the World, http://img01.deviantart.net/3a13/i/2015/127/c/2/somewhere_in_the_world__filler_words_by_pikarar-d8sk6bv.png, accessed 30 January 2016.