In the last couple of emails, we started on the subject of so-called filler words (ehm, um, ah, like, you know, isn’t it, etc.). It is a crutch that afflicts many of us when we are giving a presentation. We also established that one of the causes is our brain moving faster than we can speak. In the last email, I also share with you a simple tool that can help you cut down, you know – just keep quiet. By using well-placed pauses instead of words that don’t add to your message, you will not reduce the impact of your message. Do you want to refresh your memory, that’s as easy as CLICK!

This week, I want to finalize this with a few words that can like help reduce ahem using these words.


To adapt a quote from Peter Drucker – if you don’t measure it, you can never change it. What this means is that you need to start evaluating your use of these filler words. This is no mean feat, I can tell you. It sounds simple to do but in practice can prove challenging.

Essentially, you need to know how many times you use these words while speaking. This you can do either by recording yourself speaking or have someone listen to your presentation. After this presentation, you need to count how many of these words are used. The beauty of a recorded presentation is that you can take more time to analyse where you use these words.

I don’t know about you though, for me (at least in the beginning), I couldn’t get used to hearing my voice in the recording. It felt as if there was just so much wrong with the way I sounded and needed to improve on. Hey, who knows, your experience recording yourself might be different from mine. If not, keep at it, you’ll get used to it. Focusing on the reason for making this recording helped me to chip at these filler words, one recording at a time. I prefer to make a video, this helps me work also on my body language (mails for another day :)). But you could just as well just use voice recording to work on you know.

Let’s assume you now have this brilliant recording, the next step is to listen to your presentation. When I started doing this, the first run is just to listen as I would expect the audience to, trying not to judge my presentation.

Analyse and Adjust

Alright, I have recorded myself. I have listened to the recording, pretending to be an audience who needs to be convinced that the best way to save earth is for mankind to be transported as far away as possible. What do I do with this recording (yes, even while trying to judge, I heard like one million filler words)?

Listen to it a second time, this time focused on how many of these filler words you can identify. I bet it is a bit less than one million. As you count the number of times you use these words, it is worth paying attention to the condition in which these words come out. Can you tell me what causes them? Is it just because of a need to reduce or eliminate the vacuum formed when no words are being spoken?

By deciphering the cause of filler words, you are now in a good state to work on reducing your filler word usage.

This is the part where I tell you of a 1,2,3 stepwise process that will have you speaking flawlessly in 3 days. Unfortunately, though I believe in miracles, that is not what I am peddling here.

You have to put in some work –

  1. Learn your presentation and commit to your memory – specifically the opening and closing.
  2. Practice your presentation – I typically use my commute time to practice
  3. Consciously focus on the words you say and aim to integrate pauses in your speech. Integrate this into your practice sessions.
  4. Don’t beat yourself down if, during a presentation, you catch yourself filling up the time. Just put that behind you and focus on the next pause.

As you practice and work on your speaking, the key is to stop them just before they leave your lips by biting back on your lower lip.