The Wall Street Journal had an interesting article about “filler phrases” used by the democratic candidates at this year’s debates. Just for the record, Joe Biden leads the pack with an average of 5.6 “filler phrases” for every 1,000 words he spoke.
So what’s a “filler phrase”? It’s things like “the point is”, “let me just say” or “here’s the deal”. They’re a few words that appear to be the foundation of something important.
More often, what they really do is give the candidate some time to collect their thoughts, or maybe prevent a moment of silence. It might be a way to jump into a conversation even though they haven’t fully refined what their next statement is going to be.
Are “filler phrases” bad?
Not at all, there are plenty of times when we need that extra moment to gather our thoughts. Each one of us has our go-to line like “at the end of the day” or “the bottom line” that we use quite regularly.
Where “filler phrases” become a problem is when they’re over used. They become a conversation crutch. The word “like” is a good example. We all know that person who seems to throw it into every other sentence. Talking about “the bottom line” can actually have significance, but not if it’s used multiple times during one conversation.
So, how do you walk that fine line? First, you have to know what phrases you’re over using. You probably don’t even notice them, but the people around you do. Ask someone you trust if they hear a particular comment from you over and over. Once you know the words, listen for it in your own speech. Last year I started noticing that I would often start a statement with “It’s funny…” In fact, it really wasn’t funny. It was just a crutch. But once I identified the words, it was amazing how many times I was able to catch myself before saying them. At the very least, I would be annoyed with myself after they were used.
“Filler phrases” are a lot like cookies or ice cream. Using them a little is just fine. Too much and suddenly it’s hard to take you seriously.
So what’s your go-to “filler phrase”?