Less than words…

Have you ever listened to someone trying to explain something when they’re flustered or stressed?

Every other word seems to be an ‘um’ or an ‘ah’, the paragraphs are peppered with ‘actually’ or ‘you know’. Each sentence takes two or three times as long to say, and sometimes almost the same to unravel in your head enough to understand what is trying to be said. I say unravel as that is exactly what we have to do. The meaning gets lost in amongst all the filler words that we use in day to day conversation and the primary reason for talking in the first place – communication- is overwhelmed by useless utterances.

In Toastmasters clubs they often have an ‘ah’ counter; someone who studiously counts all of the ‘ums’, ‘ahs’, and other filler words. (I should point out here that I am a member of 3 different toastmasters clubs in England –Reading Speakers Club, Camberley Communicators & Leaders, and Marlow Orators (an advanced club). Primarily because I believe in practicing public speaking and stretching my abilities, and also because I enjoy it!)

The ‘ah’ counters report is something a lot of people dread. As human beings we hate being told we’ve done something wrong. I don’t see it like this. I always see it as being helped to become better. By having it pointed out that I hesitated and ‘um’d 6 times in two minutes, I become far more aware of my own speech patterns and how I can correct them. At a recent toastmasters meeting the ‘ah’ counter announced that she would be counting ‘actually’ as a specific verbal crutch. A real word, yes, but one that is often used as an unnecessary filler word. Unsurprisingly through the entire meeting we only had one instance of someone using ‘actually’ as a filler word. Awareness was raised – people concentrated on their own language and did not pad out their speech.

Why do we people use filler words anyway?

Aren’t they completely useless and unnecessary?

Well – for the most part, NO.

In a regular conversation, a certain amount of filler words can aid the flow of communication process. They can make it obvious that we are thinking about our words, processing them so we can deliver ideas smoothly and fluidly. They can also be used defensively; to maintain our side of the conversation without leaving a gap where someone else can jump in and ‘take over’. It’s only when we start to overuse words that they really become a problem.

When we overuse filler words it starts to impede communication. It makes it more difficult for people to understand us, and as we have to then rely on them to interpret what we’re saying its entirely possible that they misunderstand. It can even make us sound like we don’t understand or don’t know about our topic!  I’m certain that we can all point to examples of this in other people. That’s easy. What I recommend is to try listening to your own speech patterns; picking up on your own verbal crutches. Not just the ‘ums’ and ‘ahs’, but the ‘actuallys’, the ‘you knows’, the ‘whatsits’ and the ‘so’s. Only you know what words you use, and only you can correct them.

One thing extra if you’ve got to the end.  If you’ve nodded and agreed as you’ve read this – DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT!

(and let me know how you get on 🙂 )


2 Responses to “Less than words…”

  1. 1 Josh DeMuth January 15, 2008 at 3:44 am

    Great article. I am full of ahs and ums but mainly ahs. I also have trouble during phone conversations, mainly conference calls, but I am practicing daily to get rid of my habit.

    I joined a Toastmasters club at my work and have given 5 speeches. My last speech was about goals and how I want to eliminate the filler words so I decided to do my next speech on why people use filler words. I came across your blog when researching.

    It is crazy that about 75% of the websites that come up if you Google filler words, or something along those lines, reference Toastmasters. I guess I’m in the right place!

    Great post.


  2. 2 mbsprogress January 15, 2008 at 8:13 am

    Definitely in the right place, Josh. Personally, I’m a believer that filler words and pauses should be considered at the same time. They’re both just a matter of confidence – get that right and your spaeking voice will becom more powerful, more natural, and less prone to unnecesary verbal crutches slipping in.

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About me.

A professional speaker focused on helping people get more out of their day; for themselves and their companies.
I help people get things done by helping them realise that all the knowledge in the world will do absolutely NOTHING for them - if they don’t use it.
I want to change the world, and getting the right people in the right place is only the start. In todays world it is so, so easy to get pulled into doing all the wrong things. I help people figure out what the right and wrong things are and make sure their energies are focused in the right place.
Feel free to comment, or you can contact me by emailing markbell AT mbsprogress DOT com



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