Want to advance your career? Try changing the way you speakPersonal Development

When you speak, do you use fillers? Do you often say: uh, um, you know, like, er, or well? Or do you have a sing song voice and every sentence you finish sounds like a  question? People commonly use fillers because they do not know what they are going to say or they are nervous or sometimes it is a habit.

On Monday, I gave a lecture on Haiti and food insecurity to a graduate sustainable communities class. The lecture was well received, the students asked great questions, and overall I didn’t feel as nervous as I sometimes get before public speaking. After the class, I asked one of the students, who happens to be a friend his opinion. He told me  I didn’t look nervous, I had a strong command of the topic, but I used the phrase ‘I think’ too much and instead, I should firmly say what I mean. That was excellent feedback and I realized ‘I think’ is my filler.

Perhaps it is better to have ‘I think’ as my filler than ‘um,’ but I still find it problematic especially since I plan on having a career in academia. In order to graduate from my doctoral program I need to pass a written and oral exam and defend my dissertation research. Using the word ‘I think’ could potentially stop me from passing the oral components of my program. I am supposed to have a strong command of my topic and be well versed in the literature. At this stage in my career, ‘I think’ needs to leave my vocabulary and I need to have confidence in my opinions.

Does the way you talk influence your career advancement? In some cases it could. If a persons speech is irritating, but they are extremely knowledgeable, it could just slow down advancement or have people prejudge. But why chance it? Fix the speech issues and watch the doors open. 

I encourage you all to seek feedback from trusted friends, family, colleagues, and even strangers. Find out what needs work and work on it. You never know if it is ‘um, like, or you know’ that is holding you back from a promotion, job, or internship.


An urban planning PhD student finding peace in creating a balance between the mind, body, soul, & environment.

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Photo Credit: David Patrick


    • byBob
    • onMarch 6, 2014

    I totally agree!

  1. That is a great idea! Taping yourself can let you see what bad habits you have and give you ideas on how to change.

    • byWesner
    • onFebruary 22, 2014

    When I reading in public that’s my biggest part to think about, like saying ( you know, uh, um sometimes I tape myself to correct that…l

    • byWesner
    • onFebruary 22, 2014

    It have been doing that, I think it’s time for me to change that

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