Verbal Tics Deliver Wake-Up Call to Improve How You Speak

One of the first issues a client will notice when reviewing a recording of a mock presentation is the use of verbal tics, also known as fillers.  Fillers include “um,” “ah,” “you know,” “like” and “I mean.”  Even the words “so” and “well” are considered verbal tics if they are used regularly to begin a sentence when speaking.

If you’re not aware that you’re using too many verbal tics, record yourself and you’ll quickly figure out if it’s a problem.  Usually it is and that recording will be your “wake-up” call.  

Verbal fillers are pervasive in our culture.  You hear them in personal conversations, at the office, on the radio and on TV – even coming out of the mouths of nationally known news anchors.  Because it’s so easy to pick up speech habits from others, the more you’re exposed to them, the more you’re likely to pick them up in your speech.

There are many theories on why individuals use these verbal crutches. Some studies have found that people who use verbal fillers are more polite or conscientious because they are showing an eagerness to rephrase what they are saying.  Other linguistics experts say it’s a subconscious desire to get the listener to pay attention.

Whatever the trigger, it’s a good idea to reduce how many you use in daily conversation, particularly in business settings. Using too many fillers is very distracting to an audience, to the point of begin downright annoying. Their use will hurt credibility because it can signal a lack of confidence or competence.

How many are too many?  Fifty in a 5-minute business presentation is absolutely, without a doubt, too many. How often do I hear that many in a brief presentation?  All the time.

Checklist for Getting Rid of Verbal Tics

Work to get rid of verbal tics.  How?

  1. The first step is self-awareness.  Record yourself speaking. You are not going to believe you have this problem until you see and hear for yourself.
  2. The second step — slow down your speech.  Let your brain catch up with your mouth.
  3. Practice using pauses (silence) in your speech. It’s perfectly OK to take a second or two to think before you speak.