How to eliminate “um” and “like” for student success

Improve your speechHey, you know, like, um, dude, seriously, it’s like totally uncool, um, you know what I’m sayin’ … No, you probably don’t. Colloquial speech may be okay among your friends or social group, but in your school and business life, you need to communicate well. Effective communication skills reflect confidence in the message you’re trying to convey. For a student advantage in your college life, with professors and in your business communication, learn how to drop the “um” and “like” right away.

Why use “um” and what it says about us

The use of “um” and “you know” and other filler words in our speech is a habit we get from an early age.
We feel the need to say something immediately after someone asks us a question. “Um” fills the dead air while we think of the proper words we want to say. But using too many of these filler words detracts from what we are actually trying to say and make us appear slow to grasp the conversation.

In “Tips on Public Speaking: Eliminating the Dreaded ‘Um’,” October 22, 2012, at, public speaker Steven D. Cohen advises: “The next time you are asked a question, take a couple seconds to think about what you want to say. This pause serves two important purposes: it will help you begin powerfully, and it will help you avoid using a filler word. Pause, think, answer.”

Consciously reduce your “um” factor

Many people are not aware of how often they use these filler words. To check yourself, record a casual conversation you have with a friend. Play it back, and count how many times you say “um,” “you know” and “like.” It’s probably more than you think.

Public speaker Lisa B. Marshall calls these filler words “credibility killers” that infect your speech and distract your listeners. In her podcast, “How to Get Rid of Ums and Ahs!” October 26, 2010, she said: “You’ll know when one of your credibility killers is just about to escape from your mouth. Then, all you’ll need to do is to keep quiet. …At first you’ll have awkward pauses in your speech, but that’s still better, actually far better, than speech peppered with ‘likes’ and ‘ums.’” Eventually the pauses will get shorter, and your speech will become more fluent, says Marshall.

Tips for effective communication

Once you’ve mastered eliminating “um” and “like,” you can get on with speaking effectively with teachers, colleagues and employers. In “5 Things To Practice for Effective Communication Skills,” January 20, 2011, at, Joshua Riddle offers some tips on speaking well:

  • make your speech clear and concise
  • get to the point; don’t tell long drawn out stories
  • ask your listeners if they understand you; if not, further explain your point
  • be a good listener when others speak to you.

Know your audience

Before you decide how you want to speak with someone, you need to know the context of the discussion. Know who you’re talking to and what the subject matter is. If you’re texting your friends, you can use BFF, BTW and LMAO. That’s perfectly fine. But when emailing a prospective employer, leave out the acronyms and emoticons.

Body language assists effective communication skills

It’s not only your speech that counts, but your body language tells your audience that you are a good communicator. When speaking to others, stand straight, don’t slouch, make eye contact and gesture moderately with your hands — don’t wave them around distractingly. When others are speaking to you, don’t cross your arms or put your hands in your pocket or on your hips as if you are bored or have better things to do. Nod occasionally to let the speaker know you are understanding him or her.

Have you thought of ways you can eliminate “um” and “like” from your speech?

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