What is a Spacer? You already know.

Spacers are the sounds and words we insert into regular speech to buy our brains some time. It is your brain using your voice to indicate that you don’t know what you are going to say next, or are unable to say what you intended at that moment for some reason. In casual conversation, spacers are perfectly acceptable and one of our best mechanisms for dealing with unrehearsed speech. Still, when we become accustomed to using them they can make you sound uneducated or worse unqualified.

Not all spacers are created equal. ‘Like’ and ‘So’ are common filler words in English speech (your actual fillers may vary). Word fillers are fairly easy to train out of your speech. There are a few apps on the market (I like LikeSo for ios) that can help you catch and correct these words. Spacers ‘uh’ and ‘um’ are harder to deal with as they are typically subbed in when your brain really needs a moment. In fact, ‘uh’ tends to mean that your brain needs a short pause and ‘um’ can indicate a longer pause. It is ‘uh’ and ‘um’ that are mostly likely to tell the room when you indecisive, unsure, or unprepared.

I am all about letting your brain work, that means taking the time that a spacer provides as needed. But, I would love to encourage you to use that time for a breath instead. Taking a deep breath will not only give you a little more process time but, it will be a more effective and powerful process time. As an added bonus, when you eliminate spacers from your routine speaking, you won’t accidentally bring them into your professional and/or public speaking where they are unwelcome. As a result you will immediately speak with more authority.

So, how do I learn to do that Gina? I am so glad you asked.

  1. Start recording yourself speaking. Record while practicing any speaking you have to do, IRL on the phone, or while you are speaking (please note: there are specific laws that vary by state about what you can record of another person’s voice, please adhere to your local laws when recording IRL).
  2. Be clear about what you intend to say. Whenever possible, practice possible scenarios when you will be in a presentation and/or Q&A situation. If you are giving a prepared talk or presentation be sure to rehearse while standing and moving so that you can keep yourself in the active physiology that the actual talk will require. If you tend to ramble or in other ways go off-script, be prepared for that and schedule a pause for yourself every 1-2 sentences for a slow breath.
  3. Mind the Gap. A lot of spacers can be prevented if you have a good path from one segment of your content to another. The transition from one component in your presentation to the next can be a filler word magnet. Know the flow of your content and especially how to transition from one section to another.
  4. Stay in the Room. Public presentation can be difficult especially if we allow ourselves to be detached when presenting. Staying connected with the room, making eye contact, and engaging fully in what you are doing at this moment is the best medicine for the filler problem. This means knowing your stuff and how to best articulate it. Spoiler alert: this is a craft you have to practice.

I hope that is helpful beginning on your journey to speaking with more authority. If you have any questions or comments please post here or email me at gina@growvoiceblog.

GROW Voice, is a Boston-based business.  Founder and CEO, Gina Razón has taught voice and speech for over sixteen years to individuals, organizations and in academic settings.   She is sought after as a teacher of voice and speech, singing, and public presentation.  Gina has a BM and MM in Voice Performance, is a practitioner of Fitzmaurice Voicework and a certified teacher of Somatic Voicework. She has served as voice coach for TEDxCambridge, and speaks at National and local events on all things voice and speech.  Gina is a member of the National Association of Teachers of Singing, The Voice Foundation, the Voice and Speech Trainers Association and the National Speakers Association. More information at www.growvoice.com.