Guest Blog – Filler Words in Speech (part 1)

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Have you ever muttered something like “em” or “uh” while you paused to think of what to say next? We know you have. This article is about how those interjections detract from the quality of your speech or writing. In fact, they rob your listener or reader of their time. There are two main categories of interjections:

Crutch words or gap fillers. We use these in our speech to avoid silence or to link different ideas. You’ll find better ways to reach these objectives below.

Filler words. These are used in writing to make the text more fluent and coherent. They are often helpful, but when used in excess, they can clutter your piece of writing. Read on to learn the difference between the two.

Everybody uses them, however unnecessary gap fillers can ruin your public speaking and business communication.

Top 13 Crutch Words & What They Say About You

  1. Honestly is used to emphasize your truthfulness. But why do you need it? This word indicates your self-doubt. Some people use it to hide a lie, so this crutch word generally makes your message less trustworthy.
  2. Actually is the most popular gap filler. It contains no information but tries (in vain) to intensify your statement. This word shows that you like to control everything and that you double-check every fact before believing it.
  3. Basically adds authority to a poorly conveyed statement. If this is your favorite crutch word, you prefer to make a long story short and summarize, emphasizing what matters the most. After talking for a long time, you sum up your message with this word. Basically, that’s it.
  4. Like is a meaningful word when used to compare two objects or people. But when used as a filler word, it sounds “teenagish.” If you often turn to this crutch word, you have the spirit of a child, and you like to be expressive.
  5. At the end of the day. In The English Language Laid Bare, Damp Squid says this is the most irritating phrase out of the two-billion words of the Oxford Corpus. Its synonym, “ultimately,” is also needlessly inserted in conversation. If this empty phrase is your favorite, you enjoy having a backstory even when there is nothing to add.
  6. Literally usually describes an action or fact that cannot be perceived literally. The speaker’s intention is to be understood in a strict sense. However, in most cases, this word is used with a symbolic statement or exaggeration. If you tend to say this filler word, you like to control how your listeners perceive your message.
  7. So is painfully close to “well.” When it does not indicate a cause-and-effect relationship, this word just steals your audience’s time. If this is your go-to word, you hesitate too much before starting anything new and take a lot of time to make a decision.
  8. Well. This crutch word shows that you don’t have much to say or struggle to express yourself. Most likely, public speaking is not one of your strengths. Unlike the other gap fillers, this one does not have an emotional component.
  9. Look invites the listener to see and understand your point of view. We mostly use it when we feel our listener is not paying attention or is opposed to what we are saying. It is an attempt to reach an agreement. If you use “look” often, you probably try to avoid conflicts and prefer to settle any issues peacefully.
  10. Awesome is similar to a “like” on Facebook. We answer with this single word to many things that are anything but awesome. If it is your common word, you keep your distance from people and try not to show your emotions. This crutch word often hides a lack of creative thinking.
  11. Really is equivalent to an extra exclamation point. When used sparingly, it draws the listener’s attention by making a pause in the intonation. If it is your favorite word, you enjoy irony and have a good sense of humor.
  12. Totally is very similar to “really,” but with a slight difference. Both intend to highlight your credibility (the result is quite the opposite) but “totally” underlines the superiority of your knowledge (not really).
  13. Great is a milder variant of “awesome.” It indicates your remoteness and lack of interest. Find a more original way to give praise or compliments.

Overcoming Crutch Words: Best Tips

Crutch words irritate listeners. Surprisingly, they irritate speakers as well, as soon as they start paying attention to them. But human communication is a complicated system with multiple factors, which makes it difficult to completely cut out these words. Still, here are four possible ways of reducing the number of times you rely on them.

Slow down.
What is the speed of thought? It takes 50 to 150 milliseconds for our brain to react to simple stimuli. When talking, we sometimes need to formulate our ideas in our mind before saying them. This “let me think” time is often filled with crutch words. If you slow down, you will have more time to come up with the right phrases. Listen to popular public speakers. They pause after each sentence. By the way, such pauses help the audience to analyze what has been said.

Take a deep breath.
This is another way to slow down. When we speak, we exhale. Our body needs oxygen, so we need to inhale once in a while. Perceive commas and full stops as signs to breathe. Oxygen saturation influences our mental productivity and will help you think faster. With some practice, you can incorporate this method naturally without anyone noticing.

Know what to say.
Have you noticed that the more nervous you get, the more crutch words you use? When our ideas are disorganized, we are ignorant of where our trail of thought will lead us. This confusion makes us stress out. Try instead to prepare a plan for your speech. That way, if you forget something and start getting nervous, you can review your plan and move to the next point. This strategy isn’t only useful for making your presentation structured; it is also a potent stress-reliever, and all public speakers use it.

Everything gets easier with practice. Many people are afraid of silence and try to avoid it using crutch words, but practice will make you more comfortable speaking. You can train at any public event. For example, you can congratulate someone during a special occasion by saying something more elaborate than just “Wishing you love and health.” Think about what else you can say, and avoid your usual crutch words.

We tend to use crutch words instead of saying, “let me think.” They give us a feeling of security, like a favorite teacup or slippers. The more we get nervous, the more often we employ crutch words. So is it worth it to eliminate them completely?

Our answer is no. Impeccable speech without gap fillers is lifeless and lacks rhythm. However, using these words wisely adds emphasis to specific points and emotionally influences the listener. They make us sound “natural” and relaxed. Plus, it might just be too hard to get rid of them completely.

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