Filler Words In Public Speaking

I know you notice when others use them. I know you don’t mean to use them yourself. But those awful filler words have a way of creeping into your presentations the way a family of skunks hides under your front porch. You don’t notice them at first, because they’re so subtle. Then one day you realize no one’s coming around anymore because, well, your house (and your presentations) stink.

What are filler words? “Uh,” “um,” “like”, “ah,” “okay”… These are all useless words I’m certain you’ve used a million times in your presentations and in your everyday conversations—and you probably don’t even realize it. We’re a society of lazy talkers who speak before we think through what we want to say, which leads to conversations broken up by filler words that are distracting and add no value to our message.

Think about it this way: Any word you speak (or sound you make) that you wouldn’t write is a filler word. It might even be a few words together, such as “you know.” It’s time you learn how to stop using them.

Filler Words to Avoid

We’ve trained thousands of people over the years, and the majority of them came to us using filler words almost uncontrollably. Here’s what you need to understand: When you don’t make a conscious effort to avoid filler words in public speaking, they will creep in without you even knowing, and the impression you leave is unfavorable. That’s because they make you sound like you don’t know what you’re talking about and that you’re unprepared.

You’re nervous when you start speaking—we get it. Nervousness is one of the most common reasons people use filler words. Their fear distracts them which causes them to lose focus. How about turning your focus to not using filler words?

 Presentation Skills Training Helps Eliminate Filler Words

The next time you catch yourself using filler words, take a breath in. When you think about it, those “umms” and “ahhhs” are nothing more than sounds you make when you exhale. Inhale instead and use that pause to bring your focus back to what you’re saying. People underestimate the value of saying nothing. Need a second to refocus? Take a pause. It’s a very effective tool.

In our Effective Presentation Skills workshops, we spend quite a bit of time on filler words and how to avoid using them in order to sound more professional and polished. We also teach you how to effectively inject pauses into your speaking as an audience engagement tool. We’d love to have you join us at one of our open training events. Take a peek at our Calendar of Events to find out when we’ll be in your area next.

Don’t forget we’re also on FacebookTwitterLinkedIn and Google+ and we’re always posting great tips and advice to improve your public speaking skills.


  1. Um, I use these all the time. It’s about time to eliminate these filler words form my vocabulary.

  2. Try to do little different things in your everyday speech that helps train yourself to insert a pause rather than one of those pesky filler words.

  3. I HATE filler words. I’m especially irritated with people who don’t know how to end a presentation properly.

  4. Filler words are very annoying. A good way I found to avoid them is talking with total calm as if none care if I do something wrong, so I have not pressure to please them and dont get nervous.

  5. I know Laura what you mean. It just drives me crazy

  6. Cary Wittleman says:

    Um, yeah, um. it really does sound lame when people use lots of filler words in the speech. Learn to use other words that make more sense.

  7. Anita Ayela says:

    How very true! We tend to use the filler words very often when we are presenting something.Never realized that people listening to you would think that you are not prepared for the speech!!

  8. Mike Rickard says:

    I hear more filler words than I like to. Whether it’s students or professors, people seem to struggle with speaking, resulting in some true awful public speaking. I never stopped to think about the causes of filler words but I think you are right. I definitely could use a filler word intervention as I like say them all the time. The concept of taking pauses rather than saying something meaningless is a great tip!

  9. Candice Green says:

    This is something that bothered me a lot when I got older. When I was in school doing presentations, I would use “like” a lot. No teacher ever corrected me and I almost always got good grades. When I got into college, it was more of the same thing. By the time I started my first post college job, I nearly got laughed out of the room for doing this. One of my co-workers pulled me aside after and asked me to join him for coffee at lunch time. He told me I had to correct that or I wouldn’t make it far in this company. He was nice about it and pointed out a lot of what you said here. I am glad to see other people talking about this out there because it is a huge issue if you don’t correct it!

  10. Maria Arnold says:

    If using filler words during presentations is a crime, then am a culprit. it is true that they are nothing but sounds,I’ve really gotten used to them, currently am working to unlearn them as soon as I can and I know that I will get there.

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