Stand and Deliver resources
Part C - Delivery
Filler words (um...)
What are filler words?
'Filler words' are words (or phrases) that have no meaningful role in our message, but we insert them into our speaking subconsciously for a number of reasons. They may include words such as "um", "ah", "like", "just", and phrases such as "you know..." or "just that...". Everyone is different - you may have some pet filler words that are different from those listed.
Why do we use filler words?
We usually use filler words without intending to. We may not even realise we use them until we listen to a recording of ourselves afterwards! We use filler words for a number of reasons:
Lack of preparation
If we don't know what we want to say or how to say it, we will subconsciously use filler words as a way of giving our brain a moment to think of what to say next.
We're scared of silence
When you're speaking up the front, two seconds of silence can feel like an eternity! If we are uncomfortable with silence, we may insert filler words to fill the space.
We're not pausing enough
Our brains need time to process thoughts in order for us to communicate them effectively. If we don't allow pauses in our message, we will end up using filler words to give our brain time to do this valuable processing.
Habit or imitation
If we have listened to other speakers who use certain filler words, we may understandably start to mimic them. Just as a group of teenagers might all start peppering their speech with words such as "like", as preachers we might pick up on other preachers' speech habits and subconsciously adopt them as our own!
Why should we reduce filler words?
While the occasional filler word won't ruin your message, if your talk is littered with filler words it can be distracting for your audience. They may miss the heart of what you're trying to say because there is too much 'noise' around the gold in your message. It's a bit like dirt on a windscreen - a few specks won't be a problem, but too much dirt will start to obscure the view.
A symptom of something
Filler words are a symptom of other things - e.g. lack of preparation, or being scared of silence, or imitating another speaker rather than finding our own voice. By addressing these underlying issues, we will end up reducing our filler words.
Strategies for reducing filler words
There are many tips out there on reducing filler words. Broadly, a few of the more common strategies are:
1. Learn what your filler words are. By being aware of your habits, you can start to address them. To find out what your filler words are:
Listen back to a recording of yourself (we will generally record preaching at Redhill, but we're happy to also record you giving an announcement or leading communion if that helps you).
Ask someone who is both kind and honest to listen intentionally to you next time you speak, and make a note of what filler words you used.
2. Think about why you use filler words. Filler words are usually a symptom of something. Have a think - do you allow adequate time to prepare? Does a few seconds of silence make you uncomfortable? Is there a speaker you listen to a lot whose habits you've adopted? Could you put some more pauses into your message? If one of these things is an issue for you, try to address that one thing next time you speak, and see if that helps reduce your filler words.
3. Know your content. You don't need to memorise, but if you know what you want to say you are less likely to try and scramble for what to say on the fly. You can get to know your content by preparing in advance, practising saying your talk out loud, reflecting on your message in your head or reading through your bible passages. We'll talk more about preparation in Part B - Preparing a talk (coming soon).
4. Accept that silence is okay. Moments of silence in a message are more than okay - they are beneficial for both you and your audience! It allows time for both you and your audience to breathe, for your audience to catch up with you, and for our brains to process thoughts and settle. The next time you speak, write 'pause' in your notes to remind yourself to take a breath and gather your thoughts.
5. Use chunking. Rather than try to remember big sections, divide your message into smaller 'chunks' and try to remember the content that way. In between chunks, pause to look back at your notes.
See the bottom of this page for further resources on reducing filler words.
Monitoring your progress
If you dare, have someone count how many times you use your filler words when you speak (or listen back to a recording and count yourself). This is not a judgment - we all use filler words sometimes!
Then, after you've tried to put some of the above strategies in place, count again the next time you speak. Over time and with practice, see how you can reduce your filler words! (Remember to compare like with like - i.e. don't try and compare a 5 minute talk with a 25 minute sermon!).
Ask for feedback
Next time you ask someone to give feedback, ask them to listen out for your filler words. Also ask them to listen out for the strategies you might be putting in place - e.g. your pauses, allowing silence sometimes, and whether it sounds like you know your content.
If you feel daunted by the task of reducing your filler words, remember these things:
The reason you are trying to reduce your filler words is that you are trying to help your audience. You are not trying to achieve a perfect standard for yourself of never ever saying "um"!
A few filler words here and there won't ruin your message.
You won't get rid of filler words straight away, but they will reduce over time and with practise.
We try to do a great job with the skills and resources we've been given, but it's God who ultimately brings the power to our preaching, not our slick oratory.