During a speech you may feel the need to answer audience questions immediately. When you’re not prepared to answer, don’t buy some time by inserting filler words “um,” “ah” and “like.” Those words clutter your speech and bury your message. Avoid using them with these tips:
- Know where they frequently occur. You are likely to use filler words when beginning a statement and in between thoughts.
- Embrace pauses. It can take time to become comfortable with silence in between points, so practice. Take a moment to think about your answer or your next point, and then speak clearly and confidently.
- Practice. Record yourself speaking, and pay attention to when you use filler words. Or ask a coworker or friend to point them out.
- Relax. Don’t become overly obsessed with the removal of those words. An occasional use can make you sound natural and approachable.
— Adapted from “Tips on Public Speaking: Eliminating the Dreaded ‘Um’, ” Stephen Cohen, www.extension.harvard.edu.