A Simple Trick for Eliminating 'Filler Words' Like 'Like' From Your Vocabulary


When speaking, the average person uses about five filler words—such as um and uh—per minute, Noah Zandan, CEO and co-founder of science firm Quantified Communications, writes for the Harvard Business Review.

While these verbal crutches are common, overusing them can hurt your credibility in interviews or make audiences less interested in what you have to say. Fortunately, it's possible to eliminate this habit with a bit of practice, no matter how uncomfortable or nervous you may feel when speaking in public.

The next time you feel like or you know start to form on your lips, take a short pause instead. "Great public speakers often pause for two to three seconds or even longer," Zandan writes. "Our phonetic data shows that the average speaker only uses 3.5 pauses per minute, and that's not enough."

Although a short pause may feel like an eternity to you, Zandan notes that doing so can make you appear calmer and more collected. For that reason, people with a fear of public speaking could stand to benefit the most from this tip. (However, studies have shown that filler words aren't necessarily related to nerves. Rather, they're used to vocalize an upcoming pause while you search for a forgotten word or plan out your next sentence. Uh usually signals that a short pause is coming, while um typically denotes a longer pause.)

Instead of vocalizing your need to gather your thoughts, though, just take an actual pause. Not only will it give you time to take a deep breath and get back on track, but it may also enhance your speech. When they're strategically placed, pauses can build suspense, drive home a point, mark a transition to a new topic, or give the audience time to process what you've just said. However, this only tends to work for pauses under five seconds, so time them accordingly.

For this practice to become a habit, you'll have to become cognizant of your speech patterns. Try recording yourself the next time you give a public talk and play it back to help you identify which filler words you use the most. Once you're aware of the areas that need improvement, they will be easier to fix. If you need a little extra help, Zandan suggests enlisting a friend or family member to clap or snap each time you use a filler word, which will help make you more aware of the problem. It's, uh, sure to do the trick.

[h/t Harvard Business Review]

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America's Top 25 Colleges and Universities for 2021

Harvard University's Memorial Hall.
Harvard University's Memorial Hall.

Deciding what makes a certain college more desirable than another is highly subjective. Some prospective students might think a championship-winning football team and a massive student body are major selling points, while others prize a small, tightly knit community above all else.

To try to come as close as possible to identifying objectively great colleges and universities around the country, WalletHub analyzed a whopping 30 factors in seven categories, from student selectivity and cost to campus experience and career outcomes. These encompass basic metrics—admissions rate and average class size, for example—as well as more specific considerations, like study abroad programs, on-campus employment opportunities, and the median salaries of recent graduates.

Of all 1008 schools included in the study, the Ivy League ones continue to reign supreme. Harvard University ranked first, with a score of 78.6 across all 30 metrics, edging out Yale by just .03 points. Princeton, the University of Pennsylvania, Columbia, Dartmouth, and Brown also made the top 25. With low acceptance rates and high graduation rates—not to mention huge endowments—these stately old institutions are rather difficult to compete with, but they’re definitely not the only esteemed places to get a four-year education.

As a testament to the continuing success of the tech industry, three technology institutes made WalletHub’s list: Massachusetts in third place, California in fifth, and Georgia in 11th. Those three schools ranked in the top five for return on educational investment, meaning that graduates make high starting salaries compared to how much their education actually cost.

Geographically, New England (and the East coast in general) is home to a majority of the top schools, though five from California alone did chart, too: Stanford University; University of California, Berkeley; Pomona College; and Claremont McKenna College, in addition to the aforementioned California Institute of Technology.

Check out the top 25 below, and see where your alma mater ranks on WalletHub’s full list here.

  1. Harvard University // 78.6
  1. Yale University // 78.57
  1. Massachusetts Institute of Technology // 78.44
  1. Princeton University // 78.41
  1. California Institute of Technology // 77.65
  1. Stanford University // 77.12
  1. Rice University // 76.96
  1. Northwestern University // 75.4
  1. Duke University // 75.18
  1. University of Pennsylvania // 74.95
  1. Georgia Institute of Technology // 74.92
  1. Vanderbilt University // 74.66
  1. University of California, Berkeley // 74.54
  1. Columbia University // 74.51
  1. Johns Hopkins University // 74.37
  1. University of Chicago // 73.59
  1. Dartmouth College // 73.43
  1. Williams College // 73.19
  1. Brown University // 73.17
  1. Carnegie Mellon University // 73.11
  1. Washington and Lee University // 73.08
  1. Swarthmore College // 73.08
  1. Pomona College // 72.92
  1. Claremont McKenna College // 72.84
  1. Amherst College // 72.83