Gas prices are on the rise again. Years ago, most gas stations were full service. For the uninitiated, this meant that a service-station att-endant would come out, wash the windows of your car, check the fluid levels and fill up your tank, after hearing “filler-up,” followed by either “regular” or “unleaded.” Enough with the awkward segue.
“Fillers” are a form of verbal or nonverbal speech that have no real meaning except to bridge thoughts or phrases together. Fillers “buy time” (even if just milliseconds) to keep communication “seamless.” For casual conversation, the use of fillers might not present any liability. But heavily relying on fillers in professional contexts conveys a less-than-sharp impression about you. This could be as part of a presentation or a job interview. Much is said about the contribution of nonverbal communication in how we are seen by others. Here, I present five points on “fillers.”
Um; uh: This is probably the No. 1 filler we hear all of the time. When it comes down to it, people use these nonverbals when they are at a loss (even for a split second) for what to say. One strategy is to try to think before speaking and plan on speaking more slowly. Another is to prepare for the conversation, be it the content of what you want to say or how you will be presenting it. A helpful strategy to consider is having prepared notes, assuming that is acceptable for the context.
You know: This is a personal pet peeve, since it is not only meaningless, but also, of course, literally untrue. If I already knew something, I would not need to hear it. Unfortunately, many high-profile celebrities are the most common culprits. It takes awareness to eliminate this filler from your vocabulary.
Coughing and throat clearing: Obviously, there are times when one is under the weather in a temporary way. But there are some who seem to have the bug pretty much all of the time. For them, it becomes more of a go-to habit that is more indicative of something psychological than physiological. Awareness is the key.
Clichés: Elevator speeches are a way of conveying your professional essence, including areas of focus and expertise, with what your objectives are. An elevator speech might be during networking, or it could also be used during a job interview. In most cases, there is precious time available for this. Common clichés are “multitasker,” “excellent communication skills,” “team player” and “out of the box.” Yes, those terms are intended to connote positive attributes. But the truth is that 99 percent of people out there would describe themselves with these characteristics in order to sound professionally appealing. Therefore, those terms do not convey anything unique and should be avoided. Replace them with specifics about work activities and accomplishments. Leave any fine-tune detail to your responses to follow-up questions.
Prepare and practice: Trying to reduce or eliminate fillers requires practice — in a general sense and for a given situation. I know that I continuously need to work on this. Formulating my thoughts and words ahead of time definitely helps. Anticipating what I may be asked and having prepared notes is also a strategy that I use.
Shorter is often better. Being able to formulate messages in a concise manner will help lead to more positive impressions of you, whether in the workplace or even when buying gasoline.
Elliot D. Lasson, Ph.D., is executive director of Joblink of Maryland Inc.