Welcome to our Speed Tip Series—snapshots of common issues faced by debaters, paired with quick tips to remedy them. Let us know if there’s a particular topic you’d like to see covered in a Speed Tip!

Everyone knows about filler words: the perfidious little invaders that sap valuable time and eviscerate credibility. ‘Um,’ ‘uh,’ ‘like,’ ‘so,’ ‘you know,’ and even phrases like ‘at the end of the day’ or ‘going down the flow’ all ought to be avoided. They’re purposeless inserts that we use to cover up uncertain pauses (or lapses in reason).

Don’t underestimate filler words. Evict them ASAP.

First, take a minute to run a few diagnostics. Figure out which words you’re consistently overusing. You may need to video yourself speaking, or ask someone else to point some you’ve overlooked. Next, come up with replacements for them. If it’s an ‘um’ or an ‘uh’, your best bet is to simply pause. If it’s a stock phrase, you might want to come up with two or three fresh ways of expressing the same concept. And finally, drill.

Drill: Pointless PowerPoint

Step 1: Find a random PowerPoint online. You can check out this site for a few free ones.
Step 2: With no prior prep, begin presenting based on the PowerPoint. (You can make stuff up as much as you want.)
Step 3: Have a sibling or peer or coach buzz you every time you use a filler word. You can pick one or two to focus on, or go all out.

Drill: Blatherskite

Step 1: Prep a stopwatch and pick a random topic (purple, grass, snow, shoes, etc.).
Step 2: Start talking. Speak for as long as you can without using any filler words. You may need a spotter for this, since sometimes you don’t even notice when you use one of the verboten phrases.
Step 3: As soon as you use a filler word, stop the timer. Repeat as necessary, and try to beat your previous time.

Note: Other Ethos bloggers have discussed overall fluidity in speaking, so you can check out this post for further tips.

The purpose of these drills is to get you talking without having to worry too much about content. Once you’ve established good speaking patterns, you’ll see the habit begin to spill over into your serious content.


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