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How to Avoid Vocal Graffiti or Filler Words

How to Avoid Vocal Graffiti or Filler Words

Vo·cal Graf·fi·ti


  1. At Walk West, we define vocal graffiti as words in your speech that muddy up and/or detract from your message. Examples: ums, ahs, like, well, so, just, sort of, kind of, you know

How often do you use these words? It’s actually very common and everyone who speaks the English language says most of these filler words often. In fact, when we facilitate presentation training and public speaking courses, many of our students tell us one of their top goals is to stop umming and ahhing.

So, How Do You Do That?

The first step is awareness. Not until you have to get up and do a presentation in front of your colleagues do people think much about filler words. At that point, you’re too late. Training yourself to minimize using vocal graffiti takes preparation and practice.

The 3 P’s

One of our mantras in our presentation course revolves around the 3 P’s:

Prepare – Practice – Present

In your preparation for that board meeting, client presentation or elevator speech at a networking event, make sure you have prepared your content. If you’re confident in what you’re saying, you can then move on to polishing the actual delivery of your content.

Next, grab your smartphone and start practicing.

Seems silly, but it’s not. Your smartphone has an HD camera that you can set up on your mantle or in your bathroom.  Hit record and start practicing your presentation. Do it a couple of times, depending on the length. Then, watch and listen back. How many times are you interjecting filler words into your speech?

In addition to using your smartphone to record yourself, there are some helpful apps you can download to deliberately count how many times you use vocal graffiti.

ah counter app

um counter app

Once you know how many times you insert useless filler words, that awareness will help you begin to eliminate them. We teach that using a short pause before beginning a sentence to replace what might have been an “umm” or “ah.”

See what I mean here:

Words that Weaken

Other words and phrases we want people to ditch can weaken your language.

  • Kind of
  • Sort of

These are your new “bad words.” Stop saying them in declarative sentences. Think about it…

  • Is a woman ever “sort of” pregnant?
  • Do you “kind of” want a raise?

The Dreaded “Just”

  • “I just wanted to check in on…”
  • “Just wondering if you’d decided between….”
  • “If you can just give me an answer, then…”
  • “I’m just following up on…”

It’s as if you’re asking for permission or apologizing for interrupting their day with your email.

See this article to learn more about the no no’s of saying “just” in your business communication.

So, are you ready to tackle your vocal graffiti?  Oops, take out “so.”

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