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How to Stop Saying “Um,” “Ah,” and “You Know”

So, um, have you ever noticed yourself, like, using these err.. words?

Um. Ah. Like. Literally. You know. Well. – All these are filler words, or as communication experts would say – verbal pauses.  While we are thinking of the next word to speak, we use these words to fill in the gap.

For instance, in a situation where stakes are high, or we are nervous – in a job interview, maybe, or a business presentation or a speech – we tend to lose our calm and forget the trail of thoughts while speaking and that’s when we lean on these crutch words.

These may buy you a moment to recollect your thoughts and continue further. While in other cases, they do help to get the special attention from the audiences.  

But what is really wrong with using filler words?

Though, these seemingly innocent filler words aren’t an issue when they’re said once or twice, they become a problem when you keep repeating. It kills your credibility, makes you look less confident and definitely makes for very poor and unpolished communication.

The excessive use of filler words distracts the audiences. The first rule to put your message across to your listeners is to keep them ENGAGED! It becomes very hard to pay attention when every third word you speak is filler. It breaks the momentum. The audiences find it difficult to go along with your research or your story that you’re sharing!

Another negative impact of using crutch words is – the listener will not buy into your message. The idea is to keep it clear and logical. If you keep fumbling and relying on these words, you may sound like a person who has no confidence in his/her own words. You are not speaking at that point; you are simply making noises for lack of words.

The problem is we believe we can’t have a blank pause even when we don’t have anything to say! And to hold onto the “conversational floor,” we fill those voids with words like ‘um.’ and ‘ah’ and consequently, making our speech less fluent.   

You know what I mean!

How often have I heard this expression! Thankfully I did not take it personally. Many of us have a habit of saying “you know what I mean?” or, “you understand?” or, sometimes even taking it further by saying “you understand what I’m saying?” or just ending every statement with “right?”

I find these expressions highly offensive. When someone constantly says either of these when they speak, are they second judging my intelligence to comprehend? Now, I know that’s not the case. But the literal meaning of that expression is such. This, in my opinion, is even worse than “ah”, “um” etc.

Constant insertion of these expressions when you speak will most definitely distract the audience from the point you are trying to make. An empty pause would be far better than these irrelevant and misplaced filler phrases.

Embrace the Pause

To rescue you from using these words/expressions, I’d suggest – Embrace the Pause. Like filler words, pauses give you time to recollect your trail of thoughts. A purposeful pause makes you look confident and composed.  

The added advantage of pausing instead of using a filler word is that it builds a little suspense. It grabs the attention and curiosity of your listeners. A strategically placed silence also helps to emphasize the point and help people absorb your content better.

Practice, Practice, and more Practice…

It’s not easy to eliminate those filler words and take a pause instead. For some of us, that little pause feels like an eternal silence because our thoughts never stop. It does distort our perception of time. To eliminate these crutch words from your vocabulary, you need to practice a lot!

Once you are aware of this habit, you’ll start noticing these in your day-to-day communication. Try to STOP these words. Record yourself while simply talking about your whole day and see how many times you use these words. Before an important presentation or a speech, prepare well. We usually get nervous because we haven’t practiced it enough and we start leaning on crutch words, and that’s where the problem begins!

People often lose out on the opportunities because of their fear of speaking. Once you realize your potential and do enough practice, no one can stop you from shining! So don’t shy away from the next opportunity. Take that one tiny step at a time and just keep moving forward & upward! YOU will be your own Hero and the world will see you as one too!  


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