In fast food, fillers are additives that bulk up the weight of a food with less expensive, less nutritious ingredients. In conversation — particularly when we’re nervous — we pepper our speech with fillers such as “like,” “you know,” “kinda” and “um.”  But use them too often, and they can cheapen your words and distract your listener from hearing your intended messages. Think “Valley Girl” or “Clueless.”

Don't talk like Valley Girl Cher from, like, Clueless, you know?

For example, we once interviewed a woman who, on paper, had great experience but throughout our meeting said “you know” so often that we started thinking, “Will she come across as authoritative and polished to our executives and clients, or will she sound inexperienced and immature?”  In fact, no matter how many intelligent things she said during our meeting, we couldn’t help but tick off how many times she injected “you know” in between her sound bites.  Then, there was that teacher that Meryl had in elementary school who used the word “um” incessantly. So much so, that it became impossible to focus on the lesson at hand and, ultimately, the only thing learned in that class was how many times a person can actually use a pointless word over the course of an hour.

Most of the time, people don’t even realize they’re using fillers.  But there are things you can do to prevent this from happening and taking your interviewer’s, boss’ or client’s attention away from what you really want to say.

1)  Practice! It may sound silly but ask a friend to role play an interview with you and record it.  When you listen back, note how many times you said a filler.  It’s important to do this with another person versus just recording yourself saying your answers – you’re more likely to rely on fillers when in a conversation with someone else.

2) Nail down your messages. The more thought you put into your potential answers to tough interview questions, the better they will sound when the time comes.  Nervous tics show up most often when we’re nervous, unsure or lack confidence.  If you go into the interview knowing what you really want to get across, you’ll be more articulate.

3) Take a breath. A filler is called that because it literally “fills the air” between thoughts.  If you pause or take a breath in between phrases or sentences when answering a question or talking about yourself, you will be less likely to insert superfluous words into your conversation.  You can also tell the interviewer, “That’s a good question.  Let me think for a moment before answering.”  That way, you can gather your thoughts and put them in order before letting them spill out in a disorganized fashion. 

4) Watch the pros. Tune in to morning shows and news programs to see how on-air guests do when responding to interviewers.  If they use a lot of fillers, you’ll notice – and so will the show.  Chances are, they won’t be invited back.  The best guests speak intelligently, clearly and with energy but don’t sound overly rehearsed.  Take some cues from them.

We’d love to hear from you: What are some fillers you notice in day-to-day conversation? How does that affect what you think of the communicator?

Speak Your Mind