The One Thing You Need to Fix To Sound More Professional


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I realize most of you would literally rather be dead then get in front of a room and talk. People fear public speaking more than death, it’s a fact (seriously, Google it).

The thought of public speaking in front of a crowd or even the thought of being one-on-one in an interview can be incredibly nerve-wracking. You’re being judged and you know it. You might mess up. People might laugh at you. Maybe you’ll forget what you were going to say or your point will go off the rails.

However, everything will be ok. The more you practice speaking–in all sorts of situations– the more comfortable you’ll get (and the less likely you’ll sweat through your shirt from fear).

One major way to improve your “public speaking skills” (I really mean any high-pressure situation where you’re talking) is to stop using filler words.

You be might thinking to yourself, “Um, what do you mean, like uh, I don’t usually mmmm use filler words…so yeah.”

Don’t lie to yourself. Everyone uses filler words, some just more than others. There’s nothing wrong with it per say, but using them is a quick and easy way to come across as young, unintelligent, unprepared, and unprofessional.

Here are tactics you can use to stop using filler words.

Identify Your Filler Words

  • Common: Um, Like, So yeah…. (often these are used at the end of sentences).
  • Used Often: Definitely, You know
  • Lesser known: Sort of

The first step is acceptance that you use them. Once you accept this, you’re halfway down the road to recovery.

Slow Down

It’s ok to breathe and think when you’re presenting or in conversation. If you’re talking a mile a minute, you can risk people not understanding you or just pass out from lack of breath. This is why most people use filler words in the first place– they fill the silence. Many people fear silence, or they think that if they pause, they will be interrupted or will lose their place altogether. Pausing is powerful, especially in presentations. It’s a chance to let an idea you’ve presented sit and let it settle in your audiences mind.

If English is your second language, don’t be afraid to stop and think about the right word or phrase. And if you can’t remember it, don’t be afraid to say, “I can’t think of the word I want to use, but here’s what I mean,” and explain in a new way. Even if English is your first language and you really can’t think of the word you want to say, try to find one that’s similar.

Stop Using Filler Words in Every Day Life

You can’t just stop saying “like” in meetings or during interviews, you have to stop saying it everywhere. It’s a bad habit, one that needs to fully be broken. Record yourself and listen back the next time you’re in a meeting of presenting any sort of information. Give the 5 people you spend the most time with permission to hit you any time you say it. Once, my public speaking teacher in college would scream “EHHHHHH” like a buzzer at a basketball game as loudly as he could whenever we used a filler word in class. It was slightly alarming but it helped us become more aware of what we were saying and how we were saying it. Have a friend do that.

It’s a lot of hard work and takes concerted effort to stop using filler words. You’ve most likely been using them for at least 20 years or so, right? Bad habits die hard, but once they do die, you’ll find that it’s for the better.

This is a chance to take a step back and reroute the way you speak. It’ll give you so much more confidence and your audience will have even more confidence in you.

Good luck! Have any questions or comments on public speaking?

About the Author

Tess is on the Marketing and Community team at FindSpark and a recent grad from Eugene Lang College. Prior to joining the FindSpark team, she was an active member in the FindSpark community, was a Hustle Summit Fellow, and got a few previous jobs and internships from the FindSpark job board. She's passionate about traveling, puns, and words. She is a big believer in having a book with her everywhere she goes and that lipstick is equivalent to a super suit. If having a coffee IV was socially acceptable, she'd most likely have it. When she's not working or networking, you'll most likely find her somewhere in Brooklyn talking to someone about Hemingway. Connect with her on twitter @femalehemingway.

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