Last week I held a Revolving Door Rehearsal Session for a client. By the end, I had counted 143 fillers in her 20-minute talk. That’s 7.15 fillers per minute – or 1 filler per 10 seconds.
I knew she would be surprised, so I waited until the end of the feedback session to tell her. “Jane, I did tally your filler words today, and have you at 143.” I asked her what her thoughts were after learning that data point. She said, “Wow. Well, I’m really embarrassed. I had no idea.”
At a rate of 7+ “ums” and “ahs” per minute, fillers get the audience’s attention, and fast.
What is a Filler?
Fillers “fill” space in your talk. They are words you say when you’re nervous or have not practiced enough. They ‘buy time’, but at a great cost to your credibility. They creep in when speakers do not have mastery over their message; they slide in when speakers don’t have command, when they don’t have a plan of how they’ll walk the audience through their material.
After 5 years now and having coached thousands of speakers, I’ve noticed something interesting. As speakers, we’ve gotten sophisticated with our fillers over time. Fillers are more than just words like “um,” “ah,” “like,” and “so.” They can also be words like “basically” and “Does that make sense?” or the more obscure, “In that way then…”
We’re all prone to them, even me.
Confession: Last week, found myself using a new one to me, it was “Perfect.” I delivered a virtual workshop to an audience of 50+ people, none of whom I could see. I asked everyone to participate in a short exercise, and when they’d answer I would say “Great! That’s perfect.” I noticed this and immediately became annoyed with myself. I wanted to respond with some feedback about the question I had asked them, but also wanted to keep the flow of the webinar moving given the size of the audience. It did not help that I couldn’t see anyone’s facial expressions or know if they were interested or bored.
I guess I got a little antsy. I think I caught my filler habit after saying it about 5 times, but yep, it can happen to all of us. In hindsight, I could have said, “After each team answers, I’ll give a few words of feedback and we’ll move to the next team.” Setting expectations would have helped us all.
Top 5 Reasons Fillers need Fixing:
- Fillers are highly distracting. People will often start counting in the audience if it’s really bad. Now your audience has discovered a game. They start counting. Tallying on paper. Then your content is not being heard at all.
- Fillers lower your credibility. After the audiences noticed them, it instantly communicates that you have not rehearsed enough or you are letting your nerves get the best of you (and that you haven’t addressed that issue). Your message gets completely lost. And your credibility tanks. It is challenging to turn this ship around in the middle of your talk. Once you notice how many fillers you’re using? It often heightens your anxiety and can make the situation worse.
- Fillers can line up and multiply. They have a way of becoming friends with each other. An example is what I call The Filler Trifecta of “Um, So, Yeah…” I hear this one all the time. It’s usually when someone starts talking, and worse yet, when someone begins their talk.
- Let’s say you’re asked during Q&A, “Can you explain again how the process works? “Um so yeah, basically it’s a 3 step process.”
- Or at a networking meeting, “Cindy can you introduce yourself? “Um so yeah! My name is Cindy and I am …”
- Fillers are thieves. They rob audiences of the space to absorb and think. Pausing – the absence of speaking – is a skill all speakers must learn and master. While at first pausing may seem counterintuitive, is so important to let your ideas sink in.
- Filler feedback is unlikely. They don’t usually get mentioned in feedback forms. Audience members don’t want to offend speakers and say, “Wow, your talk was good, but you sure had a ton of fillers. I counted 102!”
By and large, people are not going to walk up to you and tell you you have a problem with filler words. This is a major disservice to our fellow speakers. And I get it, it’s hard to pull that kind of feedback off with finesse. Your relationship with the person needs to be taken into account, too. But if you can step into some courage and carefully word your thoughts or an email message, I invite you to do so.
Finally, fillers are not always so evil. Some are fine and normal. We’re human. We’ll use them now and then. Audiences are forgiving if they are few in number and if we’ve seen the speaker build credibility beforehand. It also brings some authenticity and human-ness. Because we’re just not perfect, nor should we strive to be.
Client Case Study
Before: I once coached a large group of speakers, they were instructors of adult education – they taught scripture, and their audiences were adults ranging in age from 20-80+. After hearing the tip I give about watching for fillers (in the group workshop), one instructor decided to tackle her filler problem head-on.
What She Did: The instructor has videos of her hour-long classes. She watched a few of those videos and counted her fillers. She was averaging over 100. She hated it. (Step 1 is being aware). She kept recording her classes (that was program protocol). She kept counting and then applied the tips in a video from our YouTube Channel.
Results: By the time I observed her teaching the class, she had about 12 over the whole hour! I was so impressed. I hardly noticed them. I was counting for her because I knew she had been working on this skill, but under normal circumstances, I would not have mentioned this as a problem in the feedback form at all. It was a moment of growth for her; she had made such a difference in the quantity of fillers, and what left a mark on me was how she had taken it upon herself to attack this head-on.
Ready to tackle your fillers? Reach out and let’s put a plan together for you. Schedule a complimentary 15-minute meet and greet by clicking here.