Ethan Rotman

Like Filler in a Hot Dog

In Confidence/Nervousness, Credibility, Delivery, Mannerisms/Habits, Public Speaking on March 18, 2010 at 7:54 am

Some words are like filler in a hot dog.

Speaking Tip # 58

Do you ever notice the words and phrases people use that have no meaning? They struggle to find something to say and throw in things that take up space but mean nothing. Words such as: 

  • Obviously
  • Let me begin by saying
  • Clearly
  • Honestly
  • As you can see
  • Really
  • Well
  • Um
  • Ah
  • In fact
  • As ‘so and so’ just said
  • In addition
  • Let me say that
  • So anyway
  • Before we begin
  • As you already know
  • Actually
  • Right

These phrases are like filler in a hot dog – they offer nothing more than bulk. There is no nutritional value or meaning. They do take up space though.

These words seem silly when read in a list, but listen for them as people around you speak. A few of these words or phrases sprinkled in a conversation may have little effect and in some cases, they may be appropriate. Most of the time, they convey a single message: The speaker does not know what to say. This hurts your credibility.

A confident demeanor demonstrates you are an expert in your field. It shows that you know what you are doing and, have the experience required to make a wise statement.

If you find yourself feeling nervous or unsure what to say, use a pause to buy you time to think. Silence is a powerful and loud tool that demonstrates you are thoughtful and credible. It buys you time to think while building your credibility.

Listen to others speak: are they using filler? If they do, how do you react when they use it? What is the impression you get when you hear them? Watch other audience members to see their reactions as well. Look at the speaker and see if you can ascertain their emotions while they do this. Do you sense confidence or panic?

It is good to speak when you have something to say. If you have nothing to say, rather than use filler, just say nothing.

 (if you have a word you like to add to the list, post it under comments. I will compile them a post the updated list)

© 2010 iSpeakEASY. All rights reserved – This speaking tip is one in a series provided by iSpeakEASY. We help people profit from their words. Call for information on individual coaching or group workshops.

  1. I would add to this list, “very,” an adjective so overused it has little or no meaning. Think about the times you hear or read “very” in front of a word. Does it really pump it up? Consider another adjective or no adjective at all.

  2. This is a difficult lesson to learn. I use some of the phrases mentioned to create a flow. Hmmm, I am willing to change.

  3. When speakers use filler words, it can indicate more than panic. It can be lack of organization or forethought. It can also be a sign of exhaustion by someone who is overscheduled or overworked. I’d agree that when we catch ourselves using filler words, it’s time to be quiet instead.

    I like Laura’s comment about using filler words to improve the flow at times. Sometimes we need to connect to what the speaker before us has said (“As the preveious speaker emphasized…”) or to pick up the train of thought after a side-tracking question (“As I was saying…”)

  4. as a matter of fact, in any case, nevertheless (alwaysthemore), the good news is, and so forth…

    Editors note: This really made me laugh. Thanks! er

  5. An interesting list. While some of the words do not have meaning, others have a purpose and a hidden meaning. I would break the list down into several categories.

    Non-words like “um” and “ah” are their own animal. “Um” is the sound of the gears in your brain clicking and whirring searching for something to send to the mouth.

    Some of the other words and phrases such as “obviously”, “as you can see”, and “clearly” are in a different category. They are argumentative. They are meant to begin convincing the listener of the speaker’s opinion.

    “Honestly” simply tells someone you are normally lying to them. I am highly suspicious of anyone who starts a sentence with, “Honestly” or “To be perfectly honest with you.”

    “In fact” implies that what the listener previously believed is untrue.

    Most of those words do not bother me as much as the modern use of the word “leverage”. You can not leverage a sales force. You can not leverage your position in the market. You can use the success of your sales force as leverage to gain something. You can use your position in the market as leverage to gain something. Please join me in stopping the use of “leverage” as a verb.

    • Thank you for your thoughts Tony. I agree – the list could be divided many ways.

      In fact, I was at a meeting this morning and I honestly counted the times the word “actually” was said. It was actually used 37 times during the meeting. Really. What does that actually mean, anyways? I think they were trying to leverage their time. (how is that?)

      Readers have submitted many words they do not like – leverage is a good one, partner is another.

      I believe we all agree there are words that are used that mean nothing or are incorrectly used.

      I appreciate your thoughtful response to this posting.

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