• Owner, Kelsey Thomas

A Simple Hack to Stop the "Ums"

Do you pepper your sentences with “ums” and “uhs” or even the dreaded “like, totally’s”?

You’re not alone.

A lot of people rely on these filler phrases to help navigate a conversation. Unfortunately, repetitive use of these common phrases, especially in high-stress situations, can cause others to subconsciously question your credibility.

It’s hard to describe my devastation when I realized I had a problem with my unchecked usage of “um”. After powering through my camera fear with my first attempt at a vlog, I then had to come to terms with how cringe-worthy I sounded with all of my filler phrases. It was only after I spent hours editing the clip that I could even bring myself to post it, “um-free”.

This led me to wonder — could I edit out the “ums” in everyday life?

According to experts, the answer is yes. Joseph Guarino from the Institute of Public Speaking says there are key ways we can minimize (or optimally eliminate) our use of filler words.

He states: To be clear, filler words are not a big deal if they are infrequent in nature. Most listeners will expect a few um’s, and ah’s even in a formal presentation. The issue is only problematic when it becomes a consistent misuse of the nonsense words. What is the secret formula to confident speech and lessened reliance on filler words? Hearing yourself — recognizing filler words — using substitutions. Recording yourself speaking through a topic is undoubtedly one of the most awkward things you could do with your lunch break but the insight is definitively worthwhile. Before hearing myself, I didn’t even realize I had an infatuation with “ums”.

Once I discovered the habits that established my communication as unsure or indecisive, I was able to substitute them with stronger transitional phrases.

Examples of Substitutions

Excerpt from Saylor Academy, Keeping your speech moving

  • Addition also, again, as well as, besides, coupled with, following this, further, furthermore, in addition, in the same way, additionally, likewise, moreover, similarly

  • Consequence accordingly, as a result, consequently, for this reason, for this purpose, hence, otherwise, so then, subsequently, therefore, thus, thereupon, wherefore

  • Generalizing as a rule, as usual, for the most part, generally, generally speaking, ordinarily, usually

  • Exemplifying chiefly, especially, for instance, in particular, markedly, namely, particularly, including, specifically, such as

  • Illustration for example, for instance, for one thing, as an illustration, illustrated with, as an example, in this case

  • Emphasis above all, chiefly, with attention to, especially, particularly, singularly

  • Similarity comparatively, coupled with, correspondingly, identically, likewise, similar, moreover, together with

  • Exception aside from, barring, besides, except, excepting, excluding, exclusive of, other than, outside of, save

  • Restatement in essence, in other words, namely, that is, that is to say, in short, in brief, to put it differently

  • Contrast and Comparison contrast, by the same token, conversely, instead, likewise, on one hand, on the other hand, on the contrary, nevertheless, rather, similarly, yet, but, however, still, nevertheless, in contrast

  • Sequence at first, first of all, to begin with, in the first place, at the same time, for now, for the time being, the next step, in time, in turn, later on, meanwhile, next, then, soon, the meantime, later, while, earlier, simultaneously, afterward, in conclusion, with this in mind

  • Common Sequence Patterns first, second, third…generally, furthermore, finally, in the first place, also, lastly, in the first place, pursuing this further, finally, to be sure, additionally, lastly, in the first place, just in the same way, finally, basically, similarly, as well

  • Summarizing after all, all in all, all things considered, briefly, by and large, in any case, in any event, in brief, in conclusion, on the whole, in short, in summary, in the final analysis, in the long run, on balance, to sum up, to summarize, finally

  • Diversion by the way, incidentally

  • Direction here, there, over there, beyond, nearly, opposite, under, above, to the left, to the right, in the distance

  • Location above, behind, by, near, throughout, across, below, down, off, to the right, against, beneath, in back of, onto, under, along, beside, in front of, on top of, among, between, inside, outside, around, beyond, into, over

While, this extensive list is helpful, I recommend finding one or two new substitutions that you feel comfortable with to start. For instance, as much as I would enjoy raising my monocle and throwing out an esteemed “thus” every time I finish making a point, it’s more realistic for me to say “in other words” as I work through daily conversation.

As with all self-improvement, be kind to yourself.

More often than not, we develop habits in response to our environment. Maybe, you picked up saying “ums” or “ahs” because you were nervous you wouldn’t be allotted enough space to share your thoughts.

Regardless of origin, habits are malleable by nature. Through patient practice, it’s possible to adjust our speech patterns to convey confidence, clarity, and rhythm.


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