Clear Your Stage of Verbal Clutter

Edith Barnard
Barnard Communications

Have you ever noticed that when someone says “You know?”… that they often do not know? The phrase “You know?” is one of the most common forms of verbal clutter littering our linguistic landscape. Truth be told, this oft-spoken phrase is my pet peeve. I have been known to interject, “No, I don’t know” if someone is saying it too often. Notice this week that some people actually say this phrase every other sentence. Henry Higgins would not approve!

Other common forms of verbal clutter include “like,” “and stuff,” “um,” “uh”… I must stop enumerating, because the list of cheap filler phrases goes on and on like the Energizer Bunny.

Recently, a professional speaker had an interesting dilemma. When he sent a video of his speeches to prospective clients, they almost always hired him; yet if he met people in person and pitched his speeches, they rarely asked him to speak. He started working with a speech coach, who asked his permission to tape their conversations because the coach thought it would shed light on his predicament.

The speaker began to notice that in casual conversation, he said “okay” often, at both the beginning and end of sentences. In the first taping, he counted 27 uses of the word “okay.” His coach reminded him that outside the privacy of our homes, all speaking is public speaking. After realizing that he used this word too much, he argued that it really wasn’t that important. Then the coach played a tape of another speaker who repeatedly used the word “basically,” and he realized how unnecessary words undermine the authority of the speaker.

These filler words work against a speaker because they annoy the listener at a subconscious level. Reducing reliance on meaningless, superfluous words can be empowering. The professional speaker above quickly learned to control his choice of language off-stage as well as on. The next week, he called his coach to say that he had been hired to be a keynote speaker at a prestigious conference based on a conversation he had in line at the post office.

Beware… Clutter also lurks in the high-sounding but empty phrase, the redundant word and the overly detailed analysis. “At this point in time” is simply the five-word equivalent of the single word “now”—it takes only a moment’s reflection to appreciate the accuracy and economy of the monosyllable. Similarly, “due to the fact that” can usually be boiled down to “because” and “whether or not” can be trimmed to “whether.”

When you find yourself saying “uhs” and “ums,” stop and repeat the sentence, this time replacing the verbal clutter with silence. Use the pause as an effective technique. Work hard at replacing verbal clutter with a simple pause, and during these short pauses, allow your mind to catch up and think about what you want to say next. By listening to our silence, we can listen to our own wise counsel and intuition. By being in tune with our own well of creativity, we will indeed know what to say. iBi

Edith Barnard is owner and operator of Barnard Communications. To learn more, visit