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Err, you know, sort of, right!

by Stephan Moons

During training sessions about public speaking course members are now and then confronted with their fillers.

Mostly they are not aware of them until they are revealed by others or by video.

Fillers can be anything like saying errr, you know or right.
But it isn't just word language. A while ago there was this young woman attending my training who had developed the habit of clapping her hands once at the end of each statement.

At first time it seemed like a way to emphasise a statement just made, but soon it became a pattern without any real meaning.

After a few claps fellow course members secretly started marking the number of occurrences…

The clapping filler had taken away the attention from the message.


All fillers have some things in common:

  • they are used very frequently. 
  • They don't add to the meaning of the message. 
  • they might distract and even annoy the audience. 

Why do people use fillers?

  • Some use errr to get their thoughts straight.
  • Errr varying in length is also used to fill up blanks. 
  • Some nervous presenters seem to use them to release negative energy. 
  • For some it seems like a habit they have picked up somewhere. They are often not aware of it, neither have they got a clue about the purpose it serves. They might have taken over the filler from another speaker, just like catching a cold. 
    Sort of and you know are such fillers. 

Once confronted with their fillers my course members ask me how to get rid of them.

Here is what I tell them:

Well, you have just taken the first step in freeing yourself from your filler: you have become AWARE of it, and have decided you don't want it anymore.

However habits die hard. So, be gentle to yourself. Next time you hear yourself using your filler don't get frustrated, because this can harm self-confidence, making things worse. Just notice it and put it AWAY gently as if you were saying Oh, there you are again... Would you be so kind as to leave my thoughts.

This approach is important as it is linked to the way our brain is wired. A habit is a neurological pathway that you have created, and then reinforced over and over again. Picture it as a path made by people in the jungle. As long as the path is frequently used it will remain visible. Once people stop using it nature will need some time to take over, and make it slowly disappear. As long as the path is visible it's inviting to use it.

The third step is letting go of your non-efficient habit by APPLYING another one that is functional and makes sense to your audience.

Presenters using errr can learn to see the power of silence instead of filling it up with distracting noise.

Silence offers your audience time to assimilate your messages, and can serve as an exclamation mark after its preceding statement.

Presenters saying right at the end of each statement can replace it by an imaginary dot. No need to check your audience's understanding 10 times per minute, is there?

Personally I have experienced and witnessed the effectiveness of the three steps:

  1. AWARE
  2. AWAY
  3. APPLY

It takes practice, courage and discipline, but keep in mind that a fresh pathway in your brain jungle isn't made overnight.

In order to learn something new we must often unlearn something existing first.

During presentation exercises I invite course members to pause as soon as they catch themselves uttering a filler. If they wish they can then say aloud Here you are, please go away, and finally proceed with their more efficient alternative.

Externalising the triple A process (Aware, Away, Apply) drastically facilitates the desired change.

The absence of fillers clearly contributes to the presenter's fluency and increases the audience's attention. Attention is at the basis of influence… sort of…you know…

Ahah, there you are again. Please… ;-)


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