Why we use filler words like "um" and "uh"

Why we use filler words like "um" and "uh"

A study found that one in every sixty words people speak is either um or uh. That means you are adding two or three of these 'fillers' per minute.

One idea on why we use fillers is that we can't immediately find the right word to say. But we could just as well stay silent. The real reason then is that going silent won't work.

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You will always experience delays in free-flowing conversation because you won't always have the right words at hand.

In public speaking:

  • We get to decide and rehearse in advance what we are going to say. With good planning, we can be more fluent and avoid the need for fillers.
  • We don't have to let the other person know when it is their turn, making fillers less needed.
  • We are not engaged in a fast-paced back and forth of conversation. We can determine the temporal rhythm of our own speech.

In a conversation, we always have to deal with who has the floor. Cooperative rules of conversation require us to use signals that regulate the flow of dialogue. If you stay silent, the other person may think you finished your turn at talking.

A filler is a signal that accounts for your delay: "Please wait. I'm not done yet. Transmission will soon resume."

Consciously slowing down will give you more time to formulate what you are saying (and your audience more time to process it.) Slowing down will decrease the likelihood of cognitive pressures that lead to delays and, in turn, to ums and uhs.

Slowing down will also make you come across as more authoritative and relaxed.

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Listen to yourself speak

Most people don't like to hear their own voice, but nothing will squash those verbal ticks quite like listening to yourself speak. Record yourself in a natural conversation, such as a conference call, then replay and listen to yourself speak.

Pay attention to filler words, up talk, monotone, and run-on sentences.

First impressions matter
Studies agree that you have less than 30 seconds to impress someone. Some studies even state that you have only seven seconds before someone makes a judgement. 

You’ve got a lot to pack into those seven seconds to make your impression a positive one.

Anyone can use humor

Appropriate humor relaxes an audience and makes them feel more comfortable with you as the speaker. 

Humor can bring attention to the point you are making and help the audience better remember it.

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