Stop using filler words. Here’s what to do instead.

Pranavi Rebala
3 min readApr 18, 2021


Anyone can blank out during a presentation. It happens to the best of us. However, what separates the best speakers from the rest are how they respond to these *brain farts*.

Many people have a tendency to use filler words, such as “Um” or “Ah” if they lose their train of thought. This is not a good practice; it can undermine the meaning of your words and make you come across as lacking confidence in your own ideas.

So what should you when you experience this much-hated brain farts?

Simple. Try pausing.

Yes. Stop talking (let’s be real — at this point you were probably rattling) and most importantly, avoid using filler words. Instead, take a breath and recollect your thoughts. This trick is used by the best speakers if they blank out, and for good reason, too.

Pausing allows you to get back on your train of thought. When the “Ums” and “Ahs” are used, your mind is focused on reciting those words instead of actually recalling the words you were supposed to say. That means that even when you do use these filler words, you will eventually have to pause to let your mind recollect your thoughts, so you might as well pause as soon as you blank out.

Not only does pausing save your tail when you have a brain fart, but it can make your words even more impactful. Yes, you are probably pausing out of necessity, but be sure to recognize the fact that you are giving your audience a much-needed opportunity to absorb the words you just said. They are getting time to think and sit with the message of your words; they are given an opportunity to listen to what you are truly conveying. More over, you are given an opportunity to regain control of the room.

When you are giving a presentation, you are the point of focus. However, it is easy for audience members to deviate their focus from you onto someone else during the presentation, and for engagement to be lost. This focus can shift even further away from you as you start to lose your train of thought and start rambling. When you pause, you are deliberately discontinuing your thoughts, and this change in the pattern will catch the attention of your audience. They will be waiting for you to start talking again — you are in control of the room.

Think about it: When people are waiting for the speaker to start talking and engaging the audience again, who is in power in that moment? Your audience is relying on you to spur their thoughts.

So yes, pausing is a great way to save yourself and assert your power, but how do you get into the habit of avoiding filler words?

It can be especially hard to wipe fillers from your vocabulary considering how commonly we use them in our everyday conversations. That’s exactly why the change starts there.

That’s why this is such an actionable goal — you can change the way you speak in your everyday conversation to get into the habit of pausing. This tendency will translate into your public speaking.

Start by speaking slower and being more deliberate with your word choice in your daily conversations. The “ums” and “ahs” (both in presentations as well as daily interactions) come from not having the word you want to use at the tip of your tongue. Speaking slower will not only help you avoid having brain farts in the first place, but also ensure that you have more power over what is coming through your mouth.

As you can probably tell, the best way to eliminate fillers is to make it a habit. The fastest way to do so is to tell your friends and family your goal so you are held accountable. Have them call you out whenever you use them in a conversation. If you happen to drop the dreaded “um” bomb, then backtrack. Restart your sentence, speak it slower, and eliminate the filler words. Pause instead.

The pause is a truly powerful thing. With consistent and deliberate practice, you can soon add it to your toolkit of public speaking hacks.



Pranavi Rebala

Economics enthusiast and philosophy nerd who strives for personal development.