Speech Techniques: Avoid Saying ‘Um,’ ‘Ah,’ or ‘You Know’

A woman practicing her speech.

One reason people use filler words is because they are nervous when speaking in front of others. (Image: Fizkes via Dreamstime)

When you are nervous, you often start saying words/sounds like “um,” “ah,” or “you know.” These words/sounds are filler words that don’t add any value to what you are saying. By avoiding saying these, you’ll come off as more confident and straightforward in your speech, which makes you sound more professional.

You can often tell when a speaker is inexperienced by how many times they use filler words. If you want to learn how to eliminate these filler words altogether, learn these speech techniques to improve your communication.

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Be comfortable with pauses

Many times, people use filler words because they are uncomfortable with pauses. One of the most powerful speech techniques is being comfortable with silence. Instead of saying things in between your sentences as a way for you to think, try pausing, taking a breath or two, and then continuing your speech.

Filler words eliminate the tension between sentences, which could have been a powerful tool to help add impact to your speech. Being comfortable with pauses is a sign of power and is often used by professionals or legendary speakers as a way to attract the attentiveness of the listener. What many people miss out on is allowing silence to bring the audience closer to waiting for what you have to say.

Male speaker smiling as he makes a hand gesture from the podium.
Being comfortable with pauses is a sign of power and is often used by professionals or legendary speech givers as a way to attract the attentiveness of the listener. (Image: Vadymvdrobot via Dreamstime)

How to practice pauses

When you first start giving speeches, you’ll say filler words more commonly, which is perfectly fine. However, as your speech progresses, it is important for you to practice pauses in certain parts of your speech.

To do this, try intentionally adding pauses in certain parts where you want to emphasize what you are saying. Instead of memorizing just where you want to place your pauses, you should also memorize what to say after that significant pause.

Another way you can improve your pauses is to learn how to breathe slowly. And memorize where you should catch your breath. When you pause, take the opportunity to make an impression and look at your audience. You can also smile, pause, look around, and place more emphasis on your physical actions.

Substitute filler words

If your speech allows, try smiling instead when you are tempted to say filler words. Such techniques involve replacing certain talking habits with powerful new ones. When you are looking to substitute your filler words, you can use this as an opportunity to smile, shake your head, or relax.

Some of the most powerful speeches are not just about what is said but also rely on the bodily actions that accompany them to make an impact.

Instead of filler words, try slowly using body actions to convey emphasis. However, you should be careful with what you substitute for the filler words. The main goal is for the audience to not see that you are nervous or unprepared.

Man gesturing as he gives a speech.
Instead of filler words, try slowly using body actions to convey emphasis. (Image: Denys Kovtun via Dreamstime)

Prepare for your speech

You are less likely to say filler words when you have thoroughly memorized your speech. Practicing once is not enough. You should practice as many times as possible to remember the words and where you should emphasize the speech. When you memorize what to say, you can work on how to say it, which involves removing filler words altogether.

If you have the luxury of time, practice with someone, and go back to the beginning whenever you say a filler word. Although this is a hard and very time-consuming thing, it is a great way to help you avoid using these filler words in your speech.

The bottom line

The most important technique you can apply to avoid filler words altogether is practice. The more you practice your routine, down to your delivery, the less likely you are to use filler words in your speech.

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