Whether you’re editing your own podcast, paying someone else to do it, or are yourself a podcast editor, filler words and the like are the #1 pain your rear.
For example, inevitably, this kinda of sentence shows up on your waveform:
Um, and so, uh, I just did that thing, but um, it didn’t um, work…
But in reality, it looks like this:
Ummmmand souoohIjust did that thing, butumuh, it didn’tum, work…
Now you have to create a coherent statement, seamlessly… and then repeat that action for the next 5 gazillion sentences.
5 hours later, you want to jump off the nearest cliff.
Or quit altogether because editing has sucked the joy out of your life.
Maybe you prefer to yell at your computer the whole time until your family starts to worry you have a serious problem…
You aren’t alone.
With 2 moderately well-spoken speakers, my editing (not necessarily including processing) time is about 2 minutes for every 1 minute of audio. If you’re DIY or new to editing, then you’re probably in the 4 to 6 minute range. That’s your Saturday afternoon for an hour long podcast. Those numbers go up exponentially as the quality of speaker goes down.
This has been something of a BIG discussion within the editor community– the filler word problem– because it’s such a time sink. And absolutely no professional podcast editor wants to earn $3 an hour to remove 50 million filler words. Economically it’s not sustainable for editor nor client. And for the DIY’ers… it’s gonna burn you out.
BUT… That’s the job. And there’s nothing to be done, right?
But, we professionals have failed to make this time and money saver a Podcast 101 thing. It really should be because it will make everyone’s life soooo much easier… pros and DIY’ers alike.
The problem is, the solution BEGINS in PRE-PRODUCTION, not post.
If you’re a podcast guest, or planning to be one, this is for YOU, too.
So here are my top 5 tips to cut down on filler words, half sentences and things that add hours to editing time. They’ll save you time, money and, as a bonus, make your podcast BETTER all around.
#1 PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE
Sit down in front of your mic and record yourself. Pretend you’re interviewing or being interviewed. Enlist a friend or partner to do a mock interview. Swap roles. Playback the recording and listen to yourself with a critical ear.
- What are your verbal tics? (unnecessary words you repeat often)
- When do you say filler words?
- What trips you up or what made you nervous?
- How did you recover?
- How did you transition from question to answer to question?
Then, practice some more. You’re verbal habits are with you off mic, too, and because you’ve gained a new awareness, you can actively work to rid yourself of them every time you speak.
Another piece to this, especially if you’re going to be a guest, is to have an idea of what you’re going speak about.
The night before I’m interviewed for a podcast, I write out my thoughts on the podcast’s topic. If they give me questions in advance, I nail down my key points and answers. I speak them out loud.
As it happened, the last interview I did there were no questions in advance, so I practiced, out loud, the points I wanted to hit. When I sat down to be interviewed, I was able to confidently and quickly answer some challenging questions because I felt like I’d done this before.
#2 SLOW DOWN
Going too fast can lead to incoherent rambling, half sentences and loads of filler words. Oddly enough, it creates this outta body experience for me that makes me think ,“OMG, I’m utterly lost and, yet, I’M STILL TALKING!!!! How is this a thing???!!!”
To nip this in the bud, I had to really think about WHY I was always rushing to get my words out. It came down to fear of not being listened to… it’s coping mechanism I developed as the youngest of 4 siblings. Then as a women in a male dominated workplace. (men tend to talk louder and faster in groups…) If that’s not relatable…Remember the scene in a Christmas Story where Ralphie’s on Santa’s lap? The pressure… the fear… and so, he spewed out words, but NOT the words he wanted.
The act of slowing down your speech is crazy empowering and gives you more control of the moment. The words will come out and you will be heard.
Practice slowing down. Pace yourself. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. Again, do it off-mic, too. You won’t regret it.
#3 BE A PASSIVE LISTENER
This is probably the piece of advice I give the most to podcasters who want to get rid of filler words.
What is passive listening? It’s when someone else is speaking and you say NOTHING until they’ve finished. NOTHING. Shhhh!!!
Why? Because when you’re an ACTIVE listener, your guest will not know if you are going to follow those words with another question or comment… they don’t know if you’re going interject. They’ve been speaking for a hot minute answering your question with a clear, well-paced, train of thought and now you’ve de-railed them.
When you say ‘mmmhmmm’ or ‘yeah!’ or ‘uh-huh’ your guest’s next word will be ‘um’ 99% of the time.
Don’t do it. Mute yourself if you need to. Explain to your guest prior to your recording that you will be silent while they speak as to not interrupt them in their glory.
#4 SILENCE IS YOUR FRIEND
Here’s what editing podcasts for a while has taught me about people: We are terribly uncomfortable with silence in conversations. We fill the silence with words as a coping mechanism for that discomfort. What we say doesn’t matter when we are just filling an uncomfortable void.
We also get nervous, especially, when we don’t immediately know the answer to a question. The biggest stall-for-time-answer is…. [drum roll] THAT’S A GREAT QUESTION!!! I’ve heard this said when a guest is asked what they do… which everyone asks on just about every podcast where they talk about what people do. It’s a meaningless sentence to bide time when thinking how to answer. Rarely is it actually a great question. Take a beat or 5, gather yourself and then answer (but also, see tip #1)
If you need a moment to think, TAKE IT. Feeling like you need to say something brings out all sorts of filler words. If you lose your train of thought, disembark. Do-overs are totally allowed… as a matter of fact, I encourage them. Give a verbal cue to ‘Cut That’ so you or your editor knows to remove the flubbed part.
Here’s what I know for sure about silence: While, yes, we are having conversations on podcasts, intimate conversations, that doesn’t mean silence is bad. Silence can actually command attention in a way words cannot. After a brief pause, listeners will automatically think you’re about to say something really important. Influencers and great speakers know this. Now you do, too.
It’s called pacing, so put it in your tool box and take the ‘um’ and stalling for time out.
#5 WARM UP YOUR GUEST
This is pretty basic, but I feel it’s better to say it than not.
If you expect to get the best out of your non-professional speaker guest, don’t say 1,2,3 GO! Take some time to ask them questions, explain the process, allow them to ask questions and lull them into a sense of comfort, connection and security.
When it’s not done, there is an obvious difference is the quality of a guest’s answers BECAUSE they have RED BUTTON SYNDROME. Meaning, they are focused on being recorded and how they will sound as opposed to having a thoughtful conversation with you.
Schedule in an extra 15 minutes for your interviews and worse case scenario, you and your guest will have an extra 10 minutes of free time… it’s win for you, your guest and your audience.
If you employ these tactics before and during the recording your podcast, you’ll spend less and less time in post-production meticulously editing out the things that detract from your listener’s experience… and you’ll have more time to spend on… well, just about anything else. Or for the editors, there will be no need to raise rates suddenly because you spend an unreasonable amount of time on de-umming a show.
And everyone will frolic into the sunshine… or whatever it is people do when they aren’t doing podcast related activities.