Most of us do it some extent. Experts say it means we’re clever and thoughtful.
Witnesses say it shows we’re stupid, lazy, or dishonest. I’m talking about filler words. The ‘likes,’ ‘ums,’ and ‘you knows’ with which we pepper our everyday speech.
It’s not a sin. But it may be harming your career.
It often happens when you’re nervous – and that’s when it counts. When you have a job interview, or you’re pitching to a client, or you’re trying to explain yourself to your boss.
You breathe less, race ahead, and fill in the gaps where your brain can’t keep up with words that mean very little.
“Once you start into the pattern, it becomes a crutch,” as communications expert Lisa B. Marshall told the New York Times.
So even though everybody slips the occasional ‘L-bomb’ into their speech, some of us get carried away with it. That’s when the person you’re talking to starts to notice. And whether the effect is conscious or subliminal, they start to believe you’re covering for something.
Ignorance. Half-heartedness. Or deception.
Not fair, right? And even less fair is that the point in your speech when you use the filler can make its effect even worse!
If you use it at the beginning of a thought, it undermines the whole statement you’re making. You look scared or unprepared. So stop starting your sentences with “so.”
Circumstances in which you say ‘like’
Learning to notice when you’re saying ‘like,’ and why, can help you to defeat it.
In many cases, it’s just a matter of exploring your vocabulary for a better word choice and having the confidence to use it.
Sometimes you might use it in combination with a facial expression: you say, “I was like…” and roll your eyes to show you were annoyed.
In regular everyday life that’s fine. It’s great to express yourself visually and not just with words!
But in the professional realm, it’s likely to be looked down on, rightly or wrongly. Find a way to explain your reaction rather than playing it out.
Other times you might use ‘like’ to approximate something. “I was like, half an hour early.” This is simple to correct: use ‘around,’ ‘about,’ or ‘approximately.’
Or if you’re using ‘like’ to introduce speech (“I was like, back off dude!”) then just use “I said” or one of the many other ‘said’ words we have.
Of course, all of this is easier to describe in the cold light of day than in the heat of professional conversation. Fortunately, there are several techniques you can use to eliminate filler words like “like,” “so,” and “um” from your daily use.
Techniques to Improve Your Way of Speaking
The first step is to record yourself talking.
Let’s say you have a job interview coming up. Ask a friend to practice with you, long in advance.
Then listen back to that tape every day. You will become self-conscious about your ‘liking’ up to the point of self-loathing! But you will learn methods to deal with it before you become a complete wreck.
After that recording, you can ask that same friend or someone you live with to make a klaxon sound or to tap you on the nose every time you use a filler word.
Just don’t let them get too accustomed to the power, or they’ll never stop.
To make sure you’re progressing, make your own recordings every day.
You don’t have to rope your friend in every time. Just set yourself a question, don’t give yourself too long to think about it, and then try to talk for two minutes without using filler words.
This is actually a game show in the UK. You can listen to that for tips, too. And listen to sports commentators and political commentators, who seem to be paid by the word, since they never stop talking but rarely fail to sound utterly convinced that they know where they’re going with their stream of thought!
And then go to work on your general interview or public speaking techniques, since the rest of your toolkit can actually drag your filler use into shape.
Using tried-and-tested interview techniques to improve your speech
We all know we’re supposed to concentrate on our body language in interviews.
Standing and sitting up straight adds a feeling of confidence, as well as creating a confident and professional impression on whomever you’re talking to. The bonus is that this confidence feeds right through to your speech center.
Researchers have actually discovered that you’ll say ‘like’ less if you take your hands out of your pockets.
Once you’re sitting properly, you’ll feel more composed. Excellent. Now you’re ready to take a deep breath and slow down.
Pause before you speak. Perhaps nod to let your interviewer know you’re processing their question – and you give your mind a chance to formulate its response properly.
It is impressive to come across somebody who has the confidence to be silent and think about their response before they give it, rather than racing ahead.
Indeed, it’s more impressive when somebody pauses to search for the right word than when they thoughtlessly throw a “like” in there instead.
Speak slowly as you go, to maintain that pace and keep the improved words coming.
Make eye contact, as every good interviewee should, and the visual feedback you get from your interviewer will actually help you to keep that slow pace, instead of speeding away through your own dimension.
Learning to cut filler words from your speech just takes self-awareness and practice.
Are you’re ready to make that change and wow the next client, boss, or customer you meet? Try working through this new visual guide to quitting the ‘likes’ and you should notice the difference in how you feel and sound, and the impression that you make.
About The Author
John writes on behalf of NeoMam Studios. A digital nomad specializing in leadership, digital media, and personal growth topics, his passions include world cinema and biscuits. A native Englishman, he is always on the move, but can most commonly be spotted in the UK, Norway, and the Balkans.