Archive for September 17, 2007

How To Drastically Reduce Your Pause Fillers?

September 17, 2007

If your speech is peppered with pause fillers , it disrupts the enjoyment of your presentation and the appreciation of your message. However for most people, pause fillers do become somewhat of a ‘plague’ when left unchecked. They give the impression that the speaker is lacking in confidence and ill-prepared. Hence it is imperative that we strive to minimize them as much as we can.

For this segment, Gerald Ong, has graciously contributed his article on how to drastically reduce our pause fillers in our speeches. My sincere appreciation to him for his sharing.

Overcoming Ah-Er Counter


Have you ever noticed words that affected your speech daily? Words may be inappropriate interjections, such as and, well, but, so, you know. Sounds may be ah, um, er. This is called Pause fillers. If you wonder why we do it daily, it subconsciously affects our thoughts. This can’t be avoided but can be reduced. I will explain it to you as I go along with you in this article.

Scientific Names of Pause Fillers:

Discourse Marker (in linguistics): It is a word or phrase that marks a boundary in a discourse, typically as part of a dialogue, i.e. “Actually”

Speech Disfluencies are any of various breaks, irregularities, or utterances that are often not consistent with any specific grammatical construction and occur within the flow of otherwise fluent speech, i.e. repeated words and phrases.

Fillers (in linguistics): They are sounds or words that are spoken to fill up gaps in utterances, i.e. “uh”, “err”

A Complied List of Pause Fillers (a total of 26 or more):




But (non-connective)

I think

I mean

You See

You Know










I guess

And (non-connective)

Say (non-connective)

Basically (non-connective)



Others (Dialects)




**This list can be extended further, subjective to one’s level of hearing and understanding*

As a rule of thumb;

For basic speakers, their average pause fillers are about 20 counts or above.

For advanced speaker, their average pause fillers is about 10 counts or above

If the speaker achieves 0 counts, I would say that he has made the most effort in controlling his pause fillers. Please compliment him with due respect.

Don’t be surprised when you see a basic speaker having a low number. That means that the speaker is of good quality and has made sufficient preparations in his speech.

Role of Ah Counter during normal chapter meetings in Toastmasters:

The purpose of the Ah Counter is to note words and sounds used as a “crutch” or “pause filler” by anyone who speaks during the meeting. Words may be inappropriate interjections, such as and, well, but, so, you know. Sounds may be ah, um, er. You should also note when a speaker repeats a word or phrase such as “I, I” or “This means, this means”.

Main Sources of Pause Fillers (in order of frequency of occurrences):

1. Table Topics Speakers – 2 minutes 30 sec

— This is one of the easiest times to catch as the speakers would stammer in their speech and create a wide range of pause fillers.

2. Prepared Speech Speakers – project duration

— This can’t be quite difficult to catch. It depends on the project that the speaker is doing

3. Old CL Presentation from The Successful Club Series or Leadership Excellence Series – 15 minutes

4. The Better Speaker Series – 15 minutes

5. Leadership Excellence Series – 15 minutes

6. Success /Communication Series – 15 minutes

7. Success/ Leadership Series – 15 minute

For the other 5 presentations, I don’t wish to comment much as most speakers would be doing either prepared speeches or prepared speech evaluation in 90% of the chapter meetings. They are known as Special Presentations to obtain their educational goals.

From the sources of pause fillers which I have mentioned earlier, there are many possibilities that pause fillers would take place. However, it does differ from individuals. An experienced and active Toastmaster would usually have a low pause filler count, due to their continuous exposure, but a New Toastmaster would typically have a high number (as indicated in the previous page)

The roles that you are advised to take up to get better understanding of the pause fillers:

1. Prepared Speech Speaker

2. Prepared Speech Evaluator

3. Table Topics Speaker & Table Topics Master (understand the psychology of impromptu speaking)

4. Language Evaluator

5. Ah Counter

By taking up the above roles, you can experience the ways in how pause fillers are captured by the Ah Counter and reduce it with your self-conscious. As you go through the individual roles, you will know how to find ways to overcome your pause fillers.

Every role plays an important part in giving great understanding of the pause fillers. It takes place naturally in our speeches and requires a lot of effort in being very conscious in your pause fillers.

You can make the effort with your heart and soul in reducing them. Don’t give up! Everyone matures over time to achieve it.

The going may be tough, but the results would be fruitful at the end of the tunnel.

Watch out for others:

Affected Meeting appointment holder: Ah Counter

Quote from New CL manual, page 72, “Listen to everyone for ‘crutch’ sounds and long pauses used as filler and not as a necessary part of the sentence structure.” (Linked back to Definition on the first page). See Guide below

Making an Effective Ah Counter’s Report for all speakers in the meeting:

Key Facts to deliver:

1. Who are the prepared speech speakers, prepared speech evaluators, appointment holders and table topics speakers?

2. What made them create a high number?

3. Assess each pause filler to the best of your ability

4. Know which scenarios to allow dispersion of pause filler count.

5. Be entertaining and humorous to your audience.

Supplementary Notes:

Guide for AH Counter

Before Meeting

** Prepare brief explanation of your duties for benefit of guests.

** Obtain record sheet or blank paper from Sergeant-at-Arms to make notes.

During Meeting

** Record the number of times a speaker uses words and sounds as well as repeated words/phrases as “pause fillers” during the meeting.

** Repeated words/phrases could include, “I, I”, “this means, this means.”

** Pause filler words such as “Well”, “You know”, “I mean”, “OK”, “So”, “And”, etc.

** Pause filler sounds such as “Ah”, “Um”, “Er”, “Yah”, etc.

** Listen and write down the number of pause fillers used by every speaker.

** When called upon to make a report, stand at your seat and report. Suggested report sequence is as follows:

— Highlight the speakers who used absolutely no pause fillers; and

    — Mention the speakers who used pause fillers, report in detail.

After Meeting

** Give completed reported to Treasurer for collection of fines.

(Differs from club to club)

Who is helping ahead of you?

The Language Evaluator

He could have missed areas that he did not cover in his language evaluation speech. You can help him by pointing out some areas which he did not talk about in the pause filler segment.

See Guide below for more information of the role of the Language Evaluator:

Guide for Language Evaluator

Before Meeting

** Prepare to comment on the use of English language during the meeting.

** Prepare “Word of the Day” to be used during the meeting. The word should help increase members’ vocabulary. Define it and give examples of its use. Write it large enough to be seen by all on a Whiteboard/Flip Chart.

During Meeting

** Throughout the meeting, listen to everyone’s word and vocabulary usage as well as grammar.

** When called upon to deliver the Language Evaluator’s Report, observe protocol, and then comment on any creative and beautiful language used.

** Try to offer the correct usage whenever there is a misuse of the language.

** Ask for a dictionary from SAA (if available) to assist you with meanings and pronunciations of words. Some words have more than one meaning and can be used to great effect by the speaker.

After Meeting

** Give completed report to Treasurer for collection of fines.

(Differs from club to club)

How can we avoid / reduce it?

Are we very careful in reducing your pause fillers? You have to, because every pause filler you make wastes 3 seconds in your speech duration. Timing is very important in a speech and this really matters to the speakers in the long-term.

Control your own sub-conscience on your pause fillers in your own speech

Affected Meeting appointment holders: Sergeant-At-Arms, Toastmaster-of-the-Evening, Table Topics Master, Table Topics Speaker, Prepared Speech Speaker, Prepared Speech Evaluator, and Language Evaluator

How to become very conscious in your Pause Fillers?

1. You can’t avoid the pause fillers but you can reduce it.

2. Set yourself a comfortable range to fall in (i.e. 0-10 counts per meeting)

3. Know what pause filler you have that repeats continuously at every meeting

4. As you speak, make a mental estimation of how many pause fillers you make each time. After which, make a review once every 3 months.

5. Review the Ah Counter’s report at every meeting.

“When you have too many pause fillers, your speech gets broken up into small fragments and don’t sound easy for the ears. You may feel that your ears can get unbearable as the speech continues.” Gerald Ong

Finally, let me share with you the tips in reducing your pause fillers & presenting your Ah Counter’s Report:

Tips in reducing your pause fillers:

1. During your practice speeches, have a rubber band on your wrist. Pull the rubber band when you speak through and pick up a pause filler. This would trigger your mind to remember to avoid speaking on it.

2. Develop self-conscious in knowing the numbers and type of pause filler you have. “Once bitter, twice shy” – as long as you know where and what made you got it, you can reduce and eliminate it.

3. In table topic, control your nervousness and don’t display it. Rely on something familiar which you can relate to.

4. Review your counts at every meeting (if you visit clubs on regular basis)

5. Always ensure that you notice that your pause fillers are decreasing gradually.

6. If your pause fillers keep increasing, make an effort to reduce it further. I believe that something has caused you to increase proportionally.

7. Your pause fillers are waste words. For every erm, you waste 3 seconds in your speech. Time is very precious in your speeches.

8. Don’t fumble and look at your notes! You will create opportunities to have pause fillers.

9. Know how to take advantage of having long pauses during your speech to create an element of suspense & surprise. “Silence speakers louder than words”

Tips in presenting Ah-Er Counter Report:

1. Work with the Vice President (Education) for a 7-10 minute slot in the meeting agenda. This would allow you to give a substantial evaluation.

2. Use chronological sequence in your report. It keeps everyone on track with the meeting agenda.

3. Always tell the relevant speakers in a detailed manner of their pause fillers. They need to know their numbers before improving further.

4. Personalize your Ah Counter Report like Language Evaluation in a different style. This helps speaker to receive your personal touch

5. You are encouraged to use the “CRC” method. Comment the speakers’ good areas, recommend the weak areas and comment on everyone performance as a whole.


1. Present an informative Ah Counter Report

2. Learn how to overcome the self-conscious part of your speech

3. Know the pause fillers

4. How to achieve the best out of it.

Pause fillers can be overcome through trials & errors. This can be achieved through constant practice and improvement over a period of time. If I can do it, so can you! Enjoy your speaking journey.