Language and speech are a beautiful thing. And while there are countless books available on the ‘correct’ way to use words and sentences, ultimately the only right way is the way you wish. Each culture and sub-culture contains as many variations on the local language as it does individuals. Efforts to regulate the way people talk are often bound up in politics and social currents that have little to do with the best interests of those who are expected to change the way they speak.
However! We do not each live in a bubble. While the ‘fingerprint’ of your speech is precious, there may be habits you’ve picked up which – while not being ‘wrong’ – are less special than others. And these habits can be misconstrued by the people to whom you speak, who will interpret the nuances of your speech to mean stuff that you quite possibly don’t intend to convey.
Take, for example, the filler. Filler words and sounds include things such as beginning a sentence with ‘so,’ or using the word ‘like’ all over the place to replace terms of approximation (about, around), said words (“I was like, ‘no way!’), or just when you’re struggling to find the correct word at all.
Sometimes we use these words because we feel rushed, or lack the confidence to use a more complex, precise alternative, or wish to convey that we’re speaking in a ‘down to Earth’ way. Experts say that the use of these words can actually be a sign of intelligence or thoughtfulness. The word ‘like’ modulates your sentence; it implies that what you’re saying is nuanced and that you wish to express your meaning clearly.
Unfortunately, this is rarely the effect that such a filler has on the person with whom you’re speaking. If you’re chatting with a friend, chances are they don’t notice your filler words altogether. But if you’re addressing a stranger, or somebody with a different speech pattern to you (including your teacher, boss, or customer) they are likely to interpret your use of filler words as lazy, ignorant, or even dishonest!
There are good reasons, then, for trying to eliminate filler words from your speech, if only for special occasions. When you control your manner of speaking, you can control the situation and create the impression of yourself that you wish to convey. Advantages of removing filler words from your speech include creating the appearance of being more assertive, interesting, and trustworthy.
Sounds like a good idea? This new visual resource is packed with methods for getting rid of those fillers.
For example, slowing down your speech is an excellent way to regain control of your vocabulary and the situation at hand. When you’re calm you appear confident and knowledgeable. And going slowly gives you a chance to pick out your words with care.
Combine this approach with a more confident, upright posture, and you’ll really start to look like you know what you’re talking about! Standing straight makes you feel more confident, and scientists have shown that removing your hands from your pockets makes you use fewer fillers.
Practice makes perfect. Listen carefully to the professionals (watch a TED Talk, a news opinion show, or even live sports commentary and figure out how they keep talking without using filler words. You can even re-watch them and talk along with them.
Then try recording yourself for periods of up to two minutes at a time, for example improvising answers to potential job interview questions, or delivering your big presentation.
Recording your voice in this way will encourage you to practice. Listening back can be painful, but it’s a very useful way to help you learn where and why you use those filler words. The more you detest the sound of your voice, and your use of filler words, the greater the aversion you’ll have to use them when it counts!
And there’s nothing like getting your friends and family involved to help you learn. Choose someone who you spend a lot of time with, and ask them to let you know whenever they catch you using a filler word. (Give them a list of the filler words up front so they don’t keep stopping you for nothing!).
With your crew on board, you’re certain to kick the habit before you re-enter the professional arena. Just don’t forget to tell them when to stop, so you can go on being yourself at home.
John Cole writes on behalf of NeoMam Studios. A digital nomad specializing in leadership, digital media, and personal growth topics, his passions include world cinema and biscuits. A native Englishman, he is always on the move, but can most commonly be spotted in the UK, Norway, and the Balkans.
How to Get Sh*t Done will teach you how to zero in on the three areas of your life where you want to excel, and then it will show you how to off-load, outsource, or just stop giving a damn about the rest.