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To Make a Big Impression Keep These Tiny Words Out of Your Presentations Filler words undermine credibility and give audiences the impression the speaker hasn't prepared well. Careful rehearsal pays big dividends.

By Jacqueline Whitmore

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Novice speakers often use filler words in their presentations. During a pause, you may hear "um" or "uh," while many speakers fall into the habit of saying, "You know?" after they make a point. These words and phrases are commonly used when the speaker pauses to think or transition to another subject.

While it's often a sign of nervousness, an "um" or two in your speech won't distract or take away from your overall message. There is, however, one word that can harm the way others perceive you and reduce your impact as a speaker: "so."

This particular filler word can be perceived as uncertainty, especially when the delivery is drawn out. As you refine your skills as a public speaker and conversationalist, practice self-awareness. Make a mental note when you catch yourself using filler words and apply the following helpful hints to eliminate them from your speech altogether.

Practice your presentation.

One way to keep "so" and other filler words out of your speeches is to rehearse your material beforehand. Preparation is helpful because it allows you to hear your presentation before you get up to deliver it. When you hear yourself say the words aloud, you'll be better equipped to recognize when you have a tendency to use filler words. Make changes to refine and streamline your presentation. As you become more familiar with the material, you'll feel more confident and be less likely to use words like "so."

Related: The Deadliest Presentation Mistakes Anyone Can Avoid

Don't fear silence.

In conversations and speeches, many people avoid silence at all costs. When meeting with potential clients or investors, entrepreneurs sometimes unintentionally fill every moment with sound -- even if it undermines their pitch. Silence isn't always uncomfortable or awkward. When used well, it can be a powerful tool. Experienced speakers use silence and pauses to build tension in a presentation. Moments of quiet give listeners time to process information. Learn to harness the power of silence and integrate it into your presentations.

Record yourself.

As you practice your presentation, use your smartphone or other video device to record your speech. When you're finished, watch the recording carefully. Pay attention to the content and listen specifically for filler words and repetitious sentences. Continue to rehearse and try to eliminate "so," "um," "uh," "like," "very," "actually" and "you know" from your speech. The end result is well worth the concerted effort. Your audience will recognize and appreciate your public speaking skills.

Related: The Perfect Presentation: Practice

Ask for advice.

Don't be afraid to invite constructive criticism from trusted friends, colleagues and mentors. At your next presentation or speech, ask someone you respect in the audience to evaluate your performance. Explain that you're improving your public speaking skills and would appreciate an outside opinion. Encourage this person to jot down the filler words you use and how frequently. Review their notes and apply their feedback to your next presentation.

Communicate confidence.

Even seasoned speakers get nervous before a public speaking event. It takes gumption to get up in front of an audience and the process can be nerve-wracking for many entrepreneurs. If you're an inexperienced presenter or feel anxious, you may unknowingly begin to lean more on filler words. Don't let your audience see you come unglued. Take a deep breath, smile, slow down and deliver your speech as you practiced.

Keep it professional.

Presentations, speeches and meetings are much more formal than casual conversations. Verbal fillers are common in informal chats because small talk with friends is unpracticed and relaxed. Casual language and an informal demeanor may be appropriate for social situations. However, if you're too informal during a speech, you may send the message that you don't care. Set a more formal, yet friendly, tone when you address an audience. When your language and demeanor is professional, you'll be less likely to use filler words.

Related: 10 Ways to Engage Your Audience During an Important Meeting

Jacqueline Whitmore

Author, Business Etiquette Expert and Founder of The Protocol School of Palm Beach

Jacqueline Whitmore is an etiquette expert and founder of the Protocol School of Palm Beach in Palm Beach, Fla. She is the author of Poised for Success: Mastering the Four Qualities That Distinguish Outstanding Professionals (St. Martin's Press, 2011) and Business Class: Etiquette Essentials for Success at Work (St. Martin's Press, 2005).

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