Sound smarter when you talk with 1 easy way

Take a split second to avoid filler words

About a year ago, a friend was interviewing me for his doctoral dissertation research.

The topic was about some corporate learning work I’ve done.

As someone with a doctoral degree, I know how difficult it is to get anyone to participate in your research or read your work.

Paying it forward is important to me. So I jumped at the chance to help my friend out.

The interview was recorded as part of the process.

I had to review and approve the transcript before it could be officially used in the dissertation.

Just a formality. No big deal, right?

Well, sort of.

I read through the 10,000+ word transcript (about an hour-long conversation).

The substance was fine and I was pleased with the interview overall.

Yet, one thing jumped out that scared me.

I said you know 163 times.

One. Hundred. Sixty. Three.


passage of text highlighting # of you know's

“you know” is highlighted

Vocalized pauses

When speaking, we often use small words to give us time to think.

The usual suspects are:

  • You know

  • Like

  • Umm

  • Ahh

  • Hmm

  • Alright

They go by many names.

Vocalized pauses. Hesitations. Vocal disfluencies. Verbal tick.

Most of us call them filler words.

Why do we use filler words?

When we talk, we like to avoid awkward moments of silence.

So we keep talking, even when we don’t know what to say next.

Our mouth moves faster than our brain.

We don’t even think about the filler words in the moment.

I know I never did.

How can I cut out filler words?

The best way to reduce your use of vocalized pauses is to first know that it’s happening.

Most of the time, we don’t know we’re doing it.

I only realized that I had a problem with filler words after I saw the interview transcript.

I even joked about it when responding to my friend to approve the transcript:

I really need to cut down on my you know'ss

It had the 3 elements needed to make change happen quickly:

  • Immediate - it happened in one conversation

  • Visible - I could see you know all over the audio transcript

  • Tangible - a search for you know in the transcript showed 163 results

Sound smarter by talking less

Help yourself by visualizing how you talk.

Look at audio transcripts. Use an app. Ask someone to count how many filler words you use.

Help others by teaching them about vocalized pauses.

Most of us don’t know we’re doing it.

Create a fun challenge to use fewer filler words.

My kids started a think jar recently. Whoever gets caught using a filler word has to put a quarter in the jar.

I’m losing a lot of money but it’s working wonders for all of us.

It takes time to unlearn what some of us have done for years.

It’s a work in progress.

You can do it, you know.

Thanks for reading.

See you next week.