Everyone uses filler words, like “um” and “ah”—from Kim Kardashian to Barack Obama. When we are speaking spontaneously, we probably use them every five seconds.
Filler words “appear in every language and every culture,” says Steven D. Cohen an assistant professor of Communication at the University of Baltimore. And although they have a “bad reputation” recent research suggests they may have benefits--aiding listener recall and comprehension. Filler words in moderation can be a tool for persuasion and influence. The secret is knowing which words to use, managing frequency, and consciously choosing where they occur in a sentence.
Cohen adds that any type of filler words used mid-sentence, are less noticeable than those used at the beginning or end. To eliminate the use of filler words at the start or end of a thought, or to cut down on their use significantly, Cohen recommends recruiting listeners to clap when you use a filler word so you can get into the habit of omitting them. His most salient tip, however, is replacing filler words with a pause. “A simple pause can have a dramatic impact on our filler word use and how other people perceive us.”
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If you would like to read more about creating a habit around masterful communication, check out our book: Be Quiet, Be Heard: The Paradox of Persuasion