CEOs Stop Saying Filler Words

International CEOs: Stop Saying Filler Words “Um” and “Ah”

Why CEOs Need To Stop Saying Filler Words, Especially “Um” and “Ah”

As a non-native English speaker, it can be easy to fall into the habit of using filler words when speaking English. Filler words, such as “um,” “ah,” “like,” “so,” and “you know,” can be used to fill gaps in speech or to signal a pause while thinking. While these words may seem harmless, they can negatively impact a CEO’s leadership and communication skills.

One example of the negative impact of filler words can be seen in the story of Maria. Maria is a non-native English speaking CEO of a large international company. Despite her impressive professional background and expertise in her field, Maria found that using filler words in English often undermined her credibility and leadership.

During meetings with her team, Maria noticed that using filler words made her seem uncertain and less confident in her ideas. This made it difficult for her team to fully trust and follow her vision, as they needed clarification on her level of conviction. Additionally, Maria’s filler words made it harder for her to clearly and concisely convey her thoughts and ideas. This further led to misunderstandings and inefficiencies within the team.


Why Business Executives Need to Stop Saying Filler Words

There are several reasons why filler words can be detrimental to leadership in a non-native English speaking CEO. First, they can diminish the speaker’s credibility and authority. When a CEO uses filler words excessively, it can make them seem unsure of themselves and their ideas. As a result, their team will feel a lack of trust.

Second, filler words can make the speaker appear less confident and competent. A CEO constantly using filler words may come across as unprepared or indecisive.  Additionally, this can negatively impact their ability to effectively lead and make decisions.

Finally, filler words can make it harder for the speaker to effectively communicate their ideas and thoughts. By constantly inserting filler words into their speech, a leader may struggle to clearly convey their message. After all, the goal of executive communication is to clearly express your point of view.

Reasons Why A CEO Needs to Stop Saying Filler Words

Why Do Executives Use “um” and “ah”?

It is common for the brain to think faster than the mouth can speak. This phenomenon occurs because the brain processes information and generates thoughts much faster than we can articulate them through speech. This fact significantly leads to the use of filler words by international business executives.

According to research, the brain can process information at a rate of up to 600 words per minute (and reportedly up to 1500 words per minute). Conversely, the average speaking rate is around 150 words per minute (Goldstein, 1995). This gap between the speed of thought and the speed of speech can lead to the use of filler words as a way to bridge the gap. This usage can buy time while the speaker gathers their thoughts.

Filler words, such as “um,” “ah,” “like,” and “you know,” can serve as placeholders in speech. The words signal a pause while the speaker gathers their thoughts or searches for the right words. While these words may seem harmless, they negatively impact the speaker’s credibility and communication skills.

One study found that using filler words was significantly correlated with a decrease in a speaker’s perceived intelligence and competence (Bassili, 1979).  This is particularly true for non-native English speaking executives who may be more prone to using them. This highlights the importance of minimizing the use of filler words in business communication.

In conclusion, the brain’s ability to think faster than the mouth can speak can often lead to using filler words in speech. While filler words may serve as a temporary placeholder in speech, they can have a negative impact on the speaker’s credibility and communication skills. For instance, it is common in high-pressure situations such as business meetings. Therefore, it is essential for international executives, such as CEOs, to minimize their use of filler words and find alternative strategies for bridging the gap between thought and speech.

What is the Optimum Frequency for Using Filler Words?

It is generally appropriate to use filler words sparingly in speech.  The overuse can interrupt the flow of conversation and may make the speaker appear uncertain or unprepared. However, the frequency at which a speaker uses filler words can vary widely depending on individual style and the specific context in which they are speaking.

Filler words are used in every language. According to Quantified Communications, the use of filler words by native english speakers is 5 filler words per minute. 

From experience, this author can state that non-native English speaking clients use filler words at a significantly higher rate when speaking English. It is common to experience clients using 15-20 filler words a minute before they become aware of this issue. 

Another study examined the use of filler words by TED speakers and found that they used an average of 1.9 filler words per hundred words. As noted, this is significantly lower than the average frequency of use for non-professionals.

The goal is not to eliminate filler words but to reduce filler words, ensuring that a CEO will maintain credibility and respect as a leader.

4 Strategies to Reduce Using the Frequency of “Um” and “Ah”

Using filler words is a habit. Habits can be difficult to break. However, the good news is that using filler words can be almost immediately stopped. The goal is not to completely stop, but the use can significantly decrease.

The following four strategies will reduce using filler words. 

1. Have an awareness of filler words. Awareness is the first step in trying to break any habit.  You can record yourself speaking, receive feedback from a coach/colleague. Using an artificial intelligence tool to measure frequency of filler words in your speech is highly beneficial.

2. Break the habit of using filler words. After you are aware of your use of filler words, changing the habit can be a simple process. Have your coach or colleague make a sound or clap their hands together each time you use a filler word. You will quickly notice yourself and voluntarily stop this habit immediately. 

3. Slow down. Slow down your speaking, and you will have time to collect your thoughts. Your use of filler words will decrease when you give yourself time to speak. This is a simple but very effective tip that works.

4. Use a pause in place of filler words. A pause in your speaking is not only a great alternative to a filler word, but has significant additional benefits, as mentioned below. 

As a company leader, you don’t need to stop saying filler words completely. However, these four steps mentioned earlier will help you reduce the frequency of your filler words and build your credibility. 

The Power of the Pause

Using pauses instead of filler words can be a highly effective strategy for a non-native English speaking CEO to improve their leadership and communication skills. Below are a few specific benefits of using pauses in this context.

Pauses can increase the perceived confidence and authority of the speaker. By pausing for a moment to gather their thoughts, a CEO can come across as more measured and decisive in their speech, rather than uncertain and reliant on filler words. Four reasons why pauses are effective:

1. Pauses can help the speaker to more effectively convey their message. By taking a moment to pause before speaking, a CEO can better organize their thoughts and present them clearly and concisely. This can help to reduce misunderstandings and improve communication with their team.

2. Pauses can help the speaker to better engage their audience. Taking a moment to pause can allow the listener to fully process and understand what is being said. Thus, resulting in more engaging and effective communication.

3. Pauses can help the speaker to appear more professional and competent. Using filler words excessively can make a speaker seem unprepared or indecisive. On the other hand, using pauses can have the opposite effect, making the speaker appear more confident and in control.

4. Pauses can be used to emphasize main points. Using a pause before you make one the most important points in your presentation can have a very positive impact. As an example, if you say, “Today, the most important point I want to make is {pause….pause….pause} reducing pauses builds credibility,” this will have your audience waiting for your main point. Pauses up to 3 seconds are great, but if you pause over 4-5 seconds, you will lose the impact of this strategy.

In summary, using pauses instead of filler words can significantly benefit a speaker in terms of their leadership and communication skills. By pausing to gather their thoughts, a CEO can convey their message more clearly, increase their perceived confidence and authority, and improve their overall effectiveness as a leader.

Take action and reduce your use of filler words today. It will have an immediate impact on your overall communication effectiveness.

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