“The Next Message I Wish to Share is … Er … Umm … And So …”
How to Reduce Those Dreaded Pause-Fillers
Most, if not all, of you would have heard of the dreaded “pause-fillers”. You are smoothly delivering your speech when out of nowhere, a wild “umm” jumps in and derails your train of thought. Did anyone catch that? Should I start over? Let me start with a reassuring thought – it is okay to have pause-fillers. Gasp! This coming from a public speaking trainer? Let me explain.
If we start from the foundations, achieving public speaking competencies is not an instantaneous or overnight success. You may have heard of famous public speakers rehearsing their materials over a hundred runs or down to the last few minutes before their presentation. This incremental journey is only made tougher by a fixation on perfection. What do I mean by this? Pause-fillers, while great to eliminate, is one of the more stubborn habits public speakers grapple with. Even for an accomplished speaker, a pause-filler will appear almost inevitably and unintentionally. The key objective is not to eliminate but to manage. An unhealthy obsession with a zero-pause-filler speech will create unnecessary pressure during your speech preparation phase.
Despite this preamble, you should nevertheless aim to manage your pause-fillers and reduce their occurrence in your speech. Here are some simple tips you can take note of in reducing your pause-filler count.
Tip #1: Slow Down, Let Your Brain Catch Up
Pause-fillers occur when your mind is not ready for the next line that you intend to deliver – the pause-filler is the verbalisation of that pause or gap. Instead of waiting for your mind to catch up, filler words such as “erm” or “uhm” will start appearing instead. In my experience, pause-fillers can occur when a speaker speaks so fast that the mind is rushing to reach the next sentence. Beyond this, speaking speed is also an indicator of nerves when presenting – all you want to do is to rush through your presentation and be done with it!
Rather than rushing through your presentation, start by giving your mind time to catch up to your speech. One underrated method of controlling your speech speed is to record your practice runs. Perform a rough calculation of your speaking speed and the number of pause-fillers that punctuate your speech. As you continue to practise and revamp your speech, keep track of the correlation between your speaking speed and the number of pause-fillers you use. You will soon realise that by slowing down, you afford your mind a necessary break to navigate your speech. You will then be able to deliver the next line with panache and power!
Tip #2: Fill Your Pause – With a Pause
Most of us fear the dreaded pause while speaking. Picture this – you see a speaker presenting his speech when suddenly, his train of thought is derailed (gasp!). The speaker tries to recall the next line in his speech, breaking eye contact with the audience and punctuating the expectant air with a loud – you guessed it – “ERRRRRRRRRR”. Pause-fillers are particularly common when we forget the next part of our speech or simply lose our train of thought. It becomes our reassuring verbal tone until we reach our desired next line.
Unfortunately, a pause-filler does more damage than one would expect. It is an immediate indicator of the lack of preparedness or abundance of nerves of the speaker. Pause-fillers break the engagement between the speakers and the audience as the latter now must wait as the speaker tries to gather his/her thoughts. You may end up undoing all that hard work in engaging and capturing the audience’s attention from the start!
The solution is simple – turn your pause-fillers into pauses! If you recall our last article on overcoming the fear of public speaking (check it out here!), the use of purposeful pauses can help you as a speaker to calm down and recollect your thoughts. Taking that pause while maintaining your engagement with your audience gives the impression that you are a speaker who is meaningfully immersed in the speech you are giving. Start turning your pause-fillers into a rest opportunity or a silent 1-second moment to recollect your thoughts!
Tip #3: Master Your Material – Keep Practising, Practising and Practising
Pause-fillers are one of the clearest indicators to me of whether a speaker has practised adequately and mastered his/her speech. When we are still struggling with mastery of our speech, the initial delivery is unlikely to be smooth and confident. The number of pause-fillers in this regard tend to be higher with less practice.
Mastery of your speech does not come easy. Practise should go beyond constant and consistent repetitions; instead, start identifying your specific pause-filler tendencies. For example, one of our clients had a consistent pause-filler grouping – he persistently used “and … so” throughout his speech. We built on this awareness by unpacking his speech draft and realised that the pause-filler grouping constantly appeared when he wanted to explain a concept in his speech. The fix for this was simple – we broke his speech draft into shorter sentences before varying the sentence length with each practice. As he becomes more comfortable with the logical flow of his speech, the use of pause-fillers was visibly reduced. In the same vein, your practise sessions should be conducted with surgical precision!
Final Thought: Progress, Not Perfection
Remember that pause-fillers is not an easy habit to eradicate in entirety. Even accomplished or well-rehearsed public speakers may have several pause-fillers in their presentations. Continue to be encouraged by incremental progress rather than vexing over perfection; with enough practice and awareness, you too can start to manage your pause-fillers!
Check Out Our YouTube Video on “How To Select Speech Topic, Pause Fillers, Q&A Tips | #SpeakUP Episode 002”