Man delivering a presentation

Have you ever wondered how to stop saying um, how to stop saying you know, and how to remove meaningless filler words like these, permanently from your speech?

Caroline Kennedy, daughter of the late President John Kennedy, has a stellar resume and pedigree. She is an author, a lawyer, and was a former diplomat to Japan.

In 2008, Ms Kennedy wanted to run for the US Senate. During an interview with the New York Times, she repeatedly used the phrase “you know” a whopping 142 times during that interview, not to mention uttering many um’s!

Explaining why she would be a good Senator, she said: “So I think in many ways, you know, we want to have all kinds of different voices, you know, representing us, and I think what I bring to it is, you know, my experience as a mother, as a woman, as a lawyer, you know, I’ve been an education activist for the last six years here, and, you know, I’ve written seven books – two on the Constitution, two on American politics”.

This train-wreck of an interview littered with all those filler words, ruined Caroline’s Kennedy’s prospects for a seat in the Senate.

Can you believe it, something as simple as too many “you knows” in her interview had made her appear inept?!

Some years ago, I attended a public speaking course. Our instructor mentioned how much more polished and professional we would be if we could stop using “filler” words, such as um, ah, and you know from our speech. I made a mental note to myself that this would be very difficult, if not impossible, because, as the saying goes, “old habits are hard to break”. But I was soon to be pleasantly surprised that it was not hard at all – It was actually straightforward. All it took, as a starting point, was awareness!

One of the exercises was to get into pairs and to speak off the cuff on some random topic. Each time one of us was to say one of those notorious filler words, our partner would ring a buzzer with an unpleasant sound, to alert us to the fact. It was very enlightening, and made me realize that most people are blissfully unaware of their “filler word” habit.

The simple exercise our instructor gave us worked like magic. I learnt to permanently stop using filler words. I had been retrained, much like famous Scientist, Ivan Pavlov, had conditioned his dogs to salivate when he rang a bell, even when there was not a morsel of food in sight!

Please pair up with someone and give this exercise a try – you will be amazed at the results.

Check out this interesting clip showing presentation coach Thaddaeus Smith, discussing this very concept.

I love the way Thaddaeus offers the interviewer $20 if he can manage to speak for 1 minute without saying a single Um. Definitely easier said than done!

Remember if you do go blank or are searching for the right words mid-speech, rather than filling the air with all those annoying filler words like “um”, “ah”, “like” and “you know”, don’t be afraid of a few seconds of silence. Use this extra time to pull yourself together and calmly gather your thoughts.

Another bonus of inserting snatches of silence into your speech is that you’ll have your audience on the edge of their seats in anticipation of what you will say next!

Originally published on

© 2021 Susan Weser.  All rights reserved. 


  • Susan Weser

    Public Speaking & Presentation Skills Trainer, Speaker, Coach and Consultant


    Susan Weser is the Founder of Speaking2Win, a boutique public speaking and presentation skills consultancy, based in Melbourne, Australia. Susan’s mission is to demystify public speaking and presenting. She loves to fast-track her clients’ public speaking success, empowering them with the skills and confidence to excel in all their public speaking endeavours.