How to limit ‘ums’ and ‘ahs’ in your presentation

Verbal pauses are common among intelligent speakers—they signal that your brain and mouth are in a high-speed race—but the audience often perceives them as uncertainty. Curb those fillers with these tips.

Like verbal hiccups, fillers such as “um,” “ah,” “like,” “mm” and “oh” pepper our speech and dilute the impact of our key messages in important presentations.

Fillers can include modifiers we use unnecessarily such as “basically,” “actually,” “literally” and “really.” Even accomplished speakers fall into the trap of using filler phrases such as “you know,” “what I’m trying to say is,” and “I think that…”

Nobody is immune, and if we are nervous, we take this verbal tic to the extreme, undermining what we are trying to say.

Filler words are killer words

Rather than enhancing your presentation, filler words weaken your effectiveness, your credibility and your authority. They also suggest that you don’t know your subject matter as well as you should.

Everyone uses fillers occasionally, but few of us realize the degree to which they creep into our speech patterns.

To check, recruit a friend with a manual counter to listen to your speech and click each time you use a filler. If you can’t arrange that, record yourself and do your own counting.

Type up your remarks in advance so you know the number of words you are using. If you count the filler utterances that sneak in, you can gauge the extent of your problem.

The average person speaks between 120 and 150 words a minute—or from two to two-and-a-half words per second. It’s no wonder we sometimes need a pause. In a normal situation, filler words make up 6 to 10 percent of our speech.

If you’re above that percentage, it’s time to take corrective action.

Tackling the “um” habit

Preparing your presentation well, practicing it repeatedly and appearing on the stage well rested will go a long way to conquering the filler word pitfall. It is also important to feel you have the time to pause and endure a second of silence if you need it, instead of rushing in to fill it with a filler word.

To avoid using fillers when responding to questions, give yourself time to pause, think and answer.

Another tactic is to make eye contact with audience members. Doing so calms your brain and allows you to proceed without having to resort to using “ah,” “um” and the like.

What techniques do you use to limit your use of fillers? Please let us know in the comments section.

Ashish Arora is the co-founder of You can also find him on Twitter or LinkedIn.

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