Umms, Ahhs and other filler words

A common problem in spoken language is to use unnecessary words or sounds. Typical words are umm,  ah, so, like, you know and ok. We sometimes use these words instead of just pausing and thinking. Listening to a speaker constantly saying umm is very annoying and tiring.

The Umm habit can be hard to break!

At Toastmasters there is a meeting role of “Um-Ah Counter”. Its purpose is to keep a count of how many times each speaker says one of these filler words and to note which word they used. For example, one person may have a  habit of starting sentences with “so”.   When a speaker becomes aware of filler words and bad habits, then steps can be taken to eradicate the habit and become a better speaker.

Here is a description of how to perform the role of Um-Ah Counter at a Toastmasters meeting.

What to do before the meeting

Make sure you have a copy of the meeting agenda and list of members so you know everyone’s names. Members should be wearing name badges.  Have a piece of paper and pen ready to keep count.

During the meeting

When you hear someone using a “filler word” – write their name on your score sheet if  their name hasn’t been recorded yet. You may want to note particular filler words used –  for example beginning a sentence with “So”.   There is no need to break down the count by word – just the total is sufficient.

Presenting your report

Report the names and the total. You may want to report the names from lowest count to highest, or the highest counts first. Comment on any particular filler words used.     There is no need to report on people who didn’t use any filler words.     For example:

“There were five people who ummed and ahhed today. Charles had 3,  Julie 5,  and Joan 7. Our top scorers were Colin with 12 and Bill on 17. David began three of his sentences with so”.

You only have one minute assigned to give your report, so make it short, snappy and fun so as to inspire “offenders” to eliminate their “um/ah” habits.


While watching another member do this report, I learnt about the Chinese tally method which I am going to use now instead of the system I learnt as a child.

Chinese tally marks:


Australian style – the way I learnt:



Author: charuzu

I live in Sydney and interests include music, piano playing, technology, cooking, English language, public speaking, Toastmasters, Asian culture (especially Japan and Korea), cinema, personal development, productivity and making friends with people from around the world.

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