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Are You Guilty of Using Filler Words with Executives?

Are You Guilty of Using Filler Words with Executives? - Janice Mars, SalesLatitude

Are You Guilty of Using Filler Words with Executives? - Janice Mars, SalesLatitudeFiller words are meaningless words, phrases or sounds that mark a pause or hesitation in speech. Some of the common filler words we typically use are um, uh, er, ah, like, okay, right, and you know. I, for one, am totally guilty of using them both in my professional and personal life. Are you?

As I’ve said before, when preparing for a key meeting with a key executive stakeholder, you should always role play and say everything out loud rather than rehearse it in your head. I received many comments from people about how helpful this advice has been for them. I then asked if this helped them reduce or remove their use of filler words. Surprisingly, many did not know what I meant until I explained what filler words actually are.

Words That Fill Up Space

When you are thinking on the fly, do you use words like “right” or say “um” a lot to fill up the space when you’re at a loss for the right words? I know I do. Good news, though! Preparation (I mean role playing) solves much of that problem. But sometimes it’s not enough. 

Even when you prepare well for presentations, the content may still not roll off the tongue comfortably, so it comes off as unnatural. For example, you may be very comfortable talking about your products, services and/or technology, but very uncomfortable talking about specific business trends and challenges in the executive’s everyday language. What should you do?

Give Yourself a Break

As a sales professional, you tend to be a jack of all trades, (and sometimes feel like) master of none. Even if you prepare and role play and prepare over and over again, you probably still don’t think exactly like that executive. As a result, you may not be as fluent with the discussion and end up adding in those dreaded filler words.

My recommendation is to give yourself a bit of a break and accept the fact that it takes time to learn new things. In the meantime, having discussions outside your typical wheelhouse may be uncomfortable. This will pass as you acquire more knowledge and understanding.

On the bright side, executives welcome the effort. They will appreciate that you take the time to get to know their business and try to provide the key insights that will help them be successful. It’s ok if you don’t have all the answers. It gives you the opportunity to follow up and keep the conversation going.

Making Filler Words Disappear

Keep in mind that if you hem and haw and use filler words, it can diminish your credibility in the executive’s eyes. It’s true that when it comes to their business, you may not know it as intimately as they do. But as long as you bring other advantages to the table, you’ll build relevance and engagement while increasing your credibility.

If you focus on understanding your buyer’s business and consistently provide value to them, then rest assured, you will get more comfortable with the conversation and those filler words will start to evaporate from your speech. Try it and let me know how it works out!


Janice Mars, Principal and Founder of SalesLatitude, is a sales performance improvement consultant and change agent focused on growing top performers to impact bottom line growth. With more than 30 years of experience as a senior business and sales executive, she helps companies build successful sales teams by maximizing their time and resources, selling from the buyer’s point of view, and strengthening the effectiveness of leadership. View my LinkedIn profile | Twitter


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