On my bookshelf

  • "The Breathing Book" by Donna Farhi
  • "Confessions of a Public Speaker" by Scott Berkun
  • "My Freshman Year" by Rebekah Nathan
  • "Power Presentation" by Patsy Rodenburg

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Fillers and Mosquitos

With the heat each summer arrives a bevy of insidious mosquitoes that buzz in our ears and leave big welts on our skin. So each night, my husband has a whole routine that he follows to the letter: all windows and doors are shut at dusk, citronella essential oil is positioned near all drains and then the fly swatter comes out and any remaining mosquitoes are "taken care of". It works beautifully, but only if he performs his nightly routine.

I have had a few requests to discuss the idea of fillers; those "likes", "ers", "ummms" that creep unknowingly and sometimes all too frequently into our lectures, casual conversations and other important interchanges. Linguists disagree as to whether this is a negative or positive aspect of speech but most listeners would agree that by the tenth "ummm" in a two minute time period, we are paying more attention to the "ummm" than the content.

So what can we do to reduce these fillers if we find that they are running amok in our speech?

1. Assess what fillers you use. We each have our own and a good friend, partner or respected student will usually be able to help you out with this (in a respectful manner). Another choice is to record yourself speaking spontaneously on a set topic.

2. Don't be afraid to pause when you sense a filler approach. Sometimes verbalizing the "ummm" is our way to buy time as we develop the perfect wording for our communication.

3. Practice in manageable chunks. Concentrating on fillers all the time may become overwhelming. Choose a brief interchange, a five minute section in your lecture or short presentation where your focus for that moment can be on reducing fillers.

4. Expand your vocabulary. Learn a new word each day and soon the joy of finding just the right word will allow you to resist the general "umm" as you toss "penultimate" at your now intrigued listener.

5. Take time to practice a little bit each day and ask for feedback from others regarding your use of fillers.

Now, we still get a few mosquitoes from time to time, despite my husband's efforts and you will probably find that the fillers will appear occasionally even after all this work. What matters most is that you feel more confident and less held back and restricted in your communication.

Go ahead-- get out that fly swatter and reduce those fillers!