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So, vocal filler is, like, when you pause in some part of a, you know, sentence, to think about what you, um, are going to say next. Except that, know what I'm saying, you fill the silence with some sort of sound or, ehh, word. The term for that sound you make is, uh, vocal filler.

People of different countries and ethnicities use different vocal filler:

  • Common: Um, ah, hmm
  • California/USA: like, totally
  • African-American: know what I'm saying
  • Japan: Ano, ehto ("that", "eh, and")
  • UK: right
  • French: hein, ben, quoi (thanks mkb)
  • German: doch, also, eigentlich ("so", "therefore, so", "kind of" .. thanks Mortice)
  • many, many others (/msg me with others)

Most people utter these "words" in everyday conversation, without even thinking about it. Since everyone does it, it's totally okay.

In public speaking, however, it is important to try to minimize your vocal filler. Why? It's distracting, and lessens the impact of what you are saying. Good public speaking strategies should help to reduce vocal filler, and those strategies are better covered on these nodes. But here are some quick hints:

  1. Try not to worry about your vocal filler while talking. Sounds sort like being told not to think about pink elephants, huh? But if you are interested enough in your speech topic, you won't have room to hesitate. If you find yourself pausing to wonder "I hope I'm not using too much vocal filler" then it's probably already too late. Which leads us to hint 2...
  2. Be confident about your speech and topic. Again the goal is to avoid hesitating. Do enough research on your subject to speak with certainty. If possible, you should feel like you know it better than anyone in the audience.
  3. Practice the speech. Especially with an audience of a friend or two. At the end of your practice, ask them how your vocal filler was. If it was bad, try more preparation or practice.
Right, good luck with your, uh, speech.
See also: hesitation noise. "Vocal filler" is the term for this sound that I was taught in public speaking class. "Hesitation noise" can be plural, ("good speech, but too many hesitation noises") while "vocal filler" is a singular mass, like pudding. ("good speech, but a little too much vocal filler")

Expletives are a little different; they are brought on by surprise. Vocal filler is an unintentional side effect of thinking while talking, maybe "thinking out loud".

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