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Delegates on our media training courses often ask how they can, like, stop using filler words.
Typically, filler words or space fillers include things like ‘um’, ‘erm’, and ‘ah’ and people often pick up on them when they hear themselves talk on one of our recorded radio or television interviews.
The good news is that when they are used occasionally in a media interview they sound perfectly natural and the audience will rarely notice.
But this habit can get out of control and become a real distraction in media interviews, taking the focus away from the message spokespeople are trying to get across.
But it is not just ‘erms’ and ‘ums’. There is a new breed of filler words which have increasingly found their way into media interviews. Words like ‘so’, ‘like’, ‘look’, ‘you know’ and ‘basically’ have become infuriatingly regular features of both radio and television interviews.
These are words which contribute nothing meaningful to responses and are far more of a distraction than the traditional filler words.
What’s the problem?
Well, as we have already mentioned, excessive use of these words can be distracting, causing audiences to stop listening and even switch-off altogether.
But importantly, they can also create an assumption that the interviewee is unsure of themselves or the subject they are discussing, particularly when used in response to tough or challenging questions.
It can create an impression that they do not know what they are going to say next.
Journalists are also likely to pick up on this apparent discomfort and pursue that particular line of questioning futher.
Filler words to add emphasis
It has become increasingly common for filler words to be used at the start of responses, particularly if they are about to launch into a detailed or complex answer.
An exaggerated ‘so’ has become a particular offender here, almost as if spokespeople are saying ‘okay – here goes’.
Not only does it add nothing meaningful to responses, but it sounds unnatural and can make spokespeople appear overly rehearsed.
And again, it can distract from what may well otherwise be detailed explanations and strong sound bites.
How do you stop?
Listen back to recordings
Many people are actually not aware just how often they use filler words until they hear a recording of one of their media interviews.
The recordings we make on our media training courses can be real eye-openers for delegates, but spokespeople should also think about making recordings of themselves on smartphones or dictaphones as they prepare for interviews.
Being aware of whether there is an issue is the first stage to reducing filler words.
Find ways to relax
Often spokespeople revert to ‘erms’ and ‘ums’ because they are feeling nervous. Take a deep breath before the interview and view it as a conversation. Being relaxed doesn’t mean you will lose control of what you are planning to say.
Speaking quickly in a media interview can not only cause your audience to struggle to keep up with the points you are making, but it can also see spokespeople use filler words as their brain tries to catch up and think what they are going to say next.
Slow the pace of responses, pausing occasionally to add emphasis to key points and allow you to gather your thoughts.
Silence is golden
Instead of uttering a filler word while you think about what you are going to say, briefly stay silent while you gather those thoughts. You don’t need to verbalise your thought processes.
Although the silence may feel like an eternity for you, the audience are unlikely to notice it and even if they do they will think you are just considering your responses.
Include more examples and stories
Stories and examples are a key component of strong media interview performances. They bring answers to life and make messages memorable. And they often allow spokespeople to talk more fluently and confidently, particularly when they are personal anecdotes.
Good preparation is vital for media interviews. The more spokespeople know their subject, the more confident they will be and the less they will rely on filler words in their responses.
Media First are media and communications training specialists with over 30 years of experience. We have a team of trainers, each with decades of experience working as journalists, presenters, communications coaches and media trainers.
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