Stop “Um-ing” (and using other fillers)

Filler Sounds, Filler Words, and Filler Phrases

  • um
  • uh
  • ah
  • er
  • hmm
  • mhm
  • uh huh
  • well
  • okay
  • so
  • like
  • basically
  • actually
  • literally
  • seriously
  • hopefully
  • probably
  • possibly
  • quite
  • relatively
  • reasonably
  • fairly
  • I think that
  • you know
  • what I’m trying to say is
  • you see
  • I mean/you know what I mean?
  • at the end of the day
  • believe me
  • I guess/I suppose
  • or something
  • stuff like that
  • kind of​

Why do we use fillers?

  • We are searching for the right word. The filler word is the sound of your decision-making process. Using a filler sound allows the speaker to indicate to the audience that there is a delay in the flow of speech.
  • We are speaking about a difficult or abstract topic. During lectures, humanities professors use filler sounds 4.76 times per hundred words, which is substantially more than professors of natural sciences who use them 1.47 times per hundred words. It is believed that this is because it is harder to express abstract ideas. If you’re speaking about complex, abstract topics, your filler words will probably increase.
  • We’re are lacking confidence in what we’re about to say. Often speakers will use more filler before responding to a question, especially when they’re are not 100% sure about their answer. People have a tendency to use fewer fillers if they are confident that their answer is right.
  • As placeholders to let the audience know we’re going to continue speaking. While this is more common in conversations, often people will use fillers to make sure they are not interrupted. It is a social cue that you are going to continue talking.

3 ways to stop using filler words

  1. Notice them: listen to yourself
  1. Download the Ummo App. Most people use filler words like “um” and “ah” when they are speaking, but when on stage they can be very distracting to your audience. Download the Ummo app to get a handle on your “ums” and “ahs”. The app records your speech, then generates a transcript highlighting where you used filler words, so you can work on omitting them from your future talks.
  2. Listen to an audio or video recording of yourself, keep a list of the common filler words, sounds and phrases, and then mark each time you use one. Figuring out which fillers you use the most is the first step in working towards eliminating them.
  3. Have a friend, colleague or mentor listen, and watch out for each time you use fillers. They can let you know in real time by raising their hand every time they hear you use one, or by tallying and feeding back to you which ones you overuse.

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