“Silent Fillers errr how should I umm start this and errm…”
We all do it. ‘Errr‘ and ‘Umm‘, also known as hesitations, are just a part of everyday speech (usually when we’re tired).
When we say ‘errr’, we’re just thinking of what to say next.
It’s not too much of an issue in everyday life. We don’t even notice it.
We do notice it in presentations, though. I’ve noticed myself doing it, and I’ve noticed my students doing it.
But you can control these sounds. And by controlling these sounds, you’ll give a better presentation.
I’m going to cover two issues in this post:
I’ve witnessed students stand at the front of the class saying ‘errrr’ after every word – and I can empathise with them. I know that they didn’t prepare for their presentation.
And I also know that they just want to stop speaking, so they can crawl into their seat or hide under the table.
I know it because I’ve been there.
I always remember (for all the wrong reasons) a short presentation I did for a seminar in my first year at university. It was horrible and I spent five minutes ‘umm’-ing and ‘errr’-ing my way through the presentation (which was about how to use the present perfect tense).
I admit. I didn’t prepare for it, and guess what: no-one was impressed. I was just glad that the presentation wasn’t an assessment.
And that’s the biggest cause: being unprepared to speak.
If you haven’t prepared, you’re going to spend a lot of time standing in front of everyone only saying ‘err’. Don’t go in there and make yourself feel embarrassed. Do a bit of preparation before the class.
Now we know that being unprepared causes these sounds, we know how to remove them, right? Not quite. Being prepared is actually only half of the battle.
‘Umm’ and ‘errr’ are quite persistent. They can appear any time.
So what can you do? Use silent fillers (and speak slower).
Silent fillers are when you replace the ‘errr’ and ‘umm’ sounds with silence. Silent Fillers are basically pauses, and they’re pretty effective at giving yourself some time to think while avoiding annoying noises.
There are two types of Silent Filler which I think are effective
This silent filler takes some confidence! All you need to do is take a big breath of air when you’d normally say ‘err’. A big breath will help you to relax and think. Honestly, the audience won’t even notice.
If you need to think, just make the last sound of any word longer. For example:
“I think we err need to think more about this” becomes, “I think wee need to think more about this.”
Try this three step strategy to help you use silent fillers:
Prepare a short text and read it a few times. A paragraph or two from an essay would be fine. When you’re ready, record yourself speaking about it from memory.
Listen to the recording and find where you say ‘umm’ and ‘errr’. Note the usual places where you make these sounds.
When you’re ready, record yourself speaking about the text again. This time, focus on speaking slower and pausing.
And that’s it. Controlling these sounds takes practice, but will make a significant improvement to your speaking.
Practice using them before your next presentation.
A few ‘umms’ and ‘errrs’ are fine, but too many can make a negative impression. Removing them from your presentations will only improve your presentations.
Removing them totally isn’t easy, but it’s not complicated. Just practice the strategy described above.
After practicing the strategy, get someone to record your next presentation and evaluate your speaking.
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Sam is the founder and creator of English For Study. He's also lecturer in EAP/Academic English. Apart from making Academic English easy, he likes learning languages, lifting weights and eating good food.