I recently had an interesting conversation with a very successful business man. We were talking about some work that we’re doing together. At one point while I was talking, he interrupted me and said “You’re using filler words! You’re a speaking speaking coach. Why are you using filler words?”
And the topic of filler words (“um, uh, like, so…”) comes up from time to time. So I thought I would address it here.
I am not a nazi when it comes to filler words (unlike some other speaking coaches). In fact if you watch the video above, you’ll notice that I’m using filler words as I’m speaking.
Filler words are not a major issue in the vast majority of cases. Audiences these days want an authentic, real human being speaking to them. A few filler words here and there are not a big issue (if anything it actually makes you more relatable and more conversational).
Filler words become an issue only if they are excessive.
If you have too many filler words, then it starts to become very distracting and it takes away from your message and your delivery.
But there’s another twist in the filler word game: filler words are the easiest thing to fixate on if you are a coach or a trainer. All you have to do, as a coach, is just sit there, watch your student, and point out their “ums” and “uhs.”
It’s the lazy man’s coaching.
If you want to focus on things that really are not important, then by all means, get rid of every single filler word in your speaking.
But if you can reduce them down to the point where they are no longer distracting, that’s good enough. Be satisfied with that and then focus on other things that are more important.
In my case, I’m comfortable using fillers when I’m presenting because I’m trying to have a conversation with my audience.
I’m rarely giving a formal scripted presentation. Instead, I’m trying to educate my audience, give guidance, provide insights.
Not everybody is going to agree with me. Some people are very rigid on this issue. And that’s fine. But I think it’s a complete waste of their time.
Audiences ultimately don’t care about filler words.
Unless the filler words are excessive, audiences fundamentally are more interested in the real person that is speaking to them, their energy, passion, and charisma.
Those are the things that matter and that’s what you should focus on. Training and rehearsal that focuses on the minutia of this or that particular word is a waste of time and energy.
This is related to something I talked about recently: when people ask me for a very specific scripted presentation. They want to know the exact, specific words they should use to convey an idea.
But the best words are always your own natural words. Ultimately, if you’re trying to have a genuine conversation with your audience, these minor details really don’t matter.
Focus on what matters.
Speaking and presentation skills are very challenging for most people.
Whatever the situation is, whether a TEDx talk, speaking on camera, or presenting to your Board of Directors, there’s a lot hitting your brain. A lot of insecurities and uncertainties are coming up all at once.
So give your brain as little work as possible. Focus your brain on the skills that are going to move the needle the most. Filler words are usually not in that category.
Focus on communicating your message with authenticity and genuine passion and commitment. The audience must feel that you’re a real person and that you have a real story to tell.
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