The worst filler words in public speaking

Allison Shapira says no "just" in public speaking.

Allison Shapira says no “just” in public speaking.

We all know the major filler words out there: um, ah, like, you know, so…

But there are a few really bad filler words that you should completely remove from your vocabulary. And it’s not kids who are using them: it’s adults at all levels, around the world.

The most destructive filler word out there is just:

  • I just want to say…
  • I just think that…
  • I just kind of believe that…

Similar to other filler words such as um, ah, and likejust is something we say without realizing it. But it’s worse than that – it qualifies what we are going to say. Actually, it disqualifies what we are going to say and makes excuses for our intervention. It devalues whatever phrase comes next.

Every time you speak, you have the opportunity to influence someone’s thoughts or behaviors. Using the word just makes it sound like you are apologizing for taking up their time; it reduces your confidence, your credibility, and your authority.

Kind of and sort of are filler words with similarly destructive effects. When you use kind of or sort of, you temper whatever you are going to say next. I’ve heard people pitching clients say, “Our mission is kind of to…” or presenting recommendations by saying, “We think you should sort of‘ which – as you can imagine – undermines the quality of their recommendation.

At an event in Washington, DC recently, I heard one distinguished panelist respond to a question by saying, “Yeah, I just kinda wanna speak to that issue…”

If you’re a speaker, there should be no kinda/sorta in your vocabulary. And no just.

Unfortunately, it’s global.

Every language has its own filler words or phrases. Among speakers of English as a first or foreign language, I’ve observed that just, kinda and sorta have tremendous pull. At a conference in South Africa last month, I heard speakers from 4 different countries each use those words. We pick them up from one another in what one colleague has called “linguistic contagion.”

So what do we do to avoid filler words?

Become aware of how often you say them. When I coach clients, I knock on a table every time I hear a filler word. If I hear the word just, I call out “No Just!” You can ask friends or colleagues to do the same thing when you run a speech by them.

Pause and breathe. Usually, we employ a filler word while we are thinking of the next thing to say. Instead of filling that time with a filler word, pause and breathe while you think of the next thing to say.

Listen for fillers in others. Once you start to hear these words in yourself, take note of how often you hear them in others. You’ll be amazed at how widespread they are and your will start to avoid them yourself.

Your goal is not to completely rid yourself of all filler words; your goal should be to reduce them so that they don’t distract from your speech and so that your audience can focus on you, your message, and your vision. Let the audience feel the power of your words and the confidence of your delivery.

No just.



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