Kill your fillers before they kill your presentation

All of us have done it at some time – and some of us do it far too often. The sad thing is, we may be unaware that we are doing it.

I’m talking about the space filler: ‘um’, ‘er’, ‘you know’, and the like. These are like verbal crutches: they can help you out of an awkward corner where your brain has rushed ahead faster than your mouth – but if you depend on them too much, you may never be able to break the habit.

One of my friends is an addict. She’s addicted to using the phrase ‘know what I mean’ at the end of almost every sentence. This probably represents some sort of comfort zone for her. Unfortunately, it also means her conversation is almost unendurable. You sit there, fists clenched, waiting for the next one. And usually you don’t have to wait very long.

How many of us have succumbed to the word ‘actually’? This is a space filler that can drive you crazy; 99 times out of 100, it adds nothing to what you’re saying. I recall a story told by a journalist about a couple who used this word every few seconds. Finally, the girl to the journalist, “Actually, we must be going now.” “Actually,” added the writer, “I didn’t mind if they did.”

Other meaningless phrases can take root, until your meaning is lost under a welter of waffle: “at this moment in time”, “looking forward”, “at the end of the day”, and so on.

Conversation is of course unprepared and unrehearsed; maddening phrases like those ones aside, most of us are prepared to overlook the odd space filler now and then.

But presentations should be as professional as possible. If you start introducing these verbal tics, the chances are that some of your audience will lose interest in what you’re saying.

If you want to kill the space filler, the first step is to know the extent of your problem. Ask a friend if you’re guilty of overusing them. Better yet, record one of your presentations and see how you do.

Second, stamp out your bad habits. I was once an inveterate ‘actually’ user myself, but ashamed of it. I made a real effort to eradicate this word from my vocabulary forever. And if it isn’t quite banished, at least it’s not slapping my listeners round the face every five seconds any more.

One good way to get rid of meaningless and irritating fillers is to pause instead. After all, fillers are pauses in your thought anyway. But real pauses, that is, ones without any words, can add weight and gravity to what you say. Listen to a really good speaker, and you’ll find there are lots of pauses. They give you time to digest what’s being said too.
Last but not least, practise your presentation. That will give you confidence, which in turn will help you do without verbal crutches.

So, if the filler is threatening to take over your life, fight back. Say no to “you know”. Don’t give “um” or “er” house room. Not only will this make your presentations more lively and interesting, they’ll also make you a better speaker.

And at the end of the day, that’s actually a good thing. Know what I mean?

David Vickery


Published On: 7th Apr 2009

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  1. I think that this is quite interesting – thank you for the tips. 🙂

    joyce 14 Apr at 1:50 pm
  2. Yes indeed, we all do it. That said, we should always be looking to improve our technique and eliminate any distractions. Once you feel an um or ahh coming on, just be aware of it and try to replace it with a natural pause. Good luck, that advice worked for me. Regards Vince

    vince stevenson 29 Apr at 5:00 pm
  3. i wish all those who read in this page to imform their friends about this so that everyone get that is quite interesting and i thank for all those who allread soe it

    ntsweli samkele 19 May at 7:53 pm
  4. Wow!! David and you guys who commented on this issue thank you very much,You really helped me alot and I believe that there were also some other people who had the same problem who got helped by reading this page,,,Thanks man alot

    Tikayo Ayanda 14 Jul at 12:50 pm
  5. it is very interesting,thank you

    ramin 9 Apr at 12:49 pm
  6. thank you!!!!!it is very funny

    ellie 5 Nov at 7:35 am