No More Um’s, Uh’s and Filler Words – (Investor Pitch Survival Guide)

  • Examples of Filler Words – It’s Not You it’s, “Um”, Them
  • Why Do We Use Filler Words When We Pitch?
  • Why Do We Use Filler Words like “Um” and “Uh” – Summary
  1. Thinking About What You’re Gong to Say Next
  2. In Between Bullets and List Items
  3. In Between Concepts or Transitions
  4. Being Extremely Nervous
  • How do I stop saying “um” during my investor pitch?
  1. Practice Your Story
  2. Embrace the Pause
  3. Talk With Your Audience, Not to Them
  • Wrap-Up

Examples of Filler Words – It’s Not You it’s, “Um”, Them

“Um” is an example of a filler word. Other filler words include “uh”, “ah”, “um”, “so”, “like”, “clearing your throat”, “well”, “you know”, or any other kind of repetitive word that doesn’t add value to your pitch. Sometimes these filler words are used appropriately to transition, but most of the time they are an unconscious occurrence in your pitch. Toastmasters International, an organization committed to making great public speakers, even counts filler words to help presenters. This special Toastmaster Role is called the ah-counter. Oh if we could all have our own “ah” counter. 

For Toastmaster’s take on Cutting Out Filler Words check out their article here. Read on for our take and how filler words applies to pitching your investors and what to do about them.

Why Do We Use Filler Words When We Pitch?

‘There are many reasons why you say “um” and other filler words. Here’s the short answer followed by more detailed explanations of each:

Why Do We Use Filler Words like “Um” and “Uh” – Summary

  1. Thinking About What You’re Gong to Say Next
  2. In Between Concepts or Transitions
  3. Being Extremely Nervous

Thinking About What You’re Gong to Say Next

When you are talking it’s natural to lean on filler words to help you buy time to think. Setting up that next thing your are saying, is a very common thing that happens when you are pitching. You’re not comfortable being in front of an audience and unless this is a well rehearsed pitch, you are going to be in an improvisational mode. When you are not entirely sure what you are going to say – you will likely use filler words to break up the tension and help you get more time to figure it out.

In Between Bullets and List Items

Another point in time in which you would say “um” is in-between bullet-points or list items. Now, I hope you don’t actually have bullet points in your pitch deck – we hate bullet points – (read that linked article in the last sentence if you have these in your pitch deck).

Lists are especially dangerous because you are likely to be reading off them and trying to ad-lib as you go. This is bound to cause filler words amongst other problems while you buy time to think. This is just one of the many reasons why it’s super important not to use bullets, but to also be very cautious for doing your pitch on the fly. Your pitch won’t be as good and the filler words and they will distract and detract from your audience’s ability to hear and connect with you.

In Between Concepts and Transition Points

Let’s say you know not to use bullets. Transitioning topics and ending your pitch are key points where you’ll probably be more than tempted to use filler words. So again, its in-between things – this time maybe it’s not bulleted lists (Thank goodness!) but moving in between concepts, slides, or points in your presentation all create uncomfortable transitions. Be on the lookout for your filler words to come creeping in during these  in-between times in your pitch. Between statements, in-between sentences, in-between topics, in between slides, that’s when the ums and the uhs and the filler words are going to come in. 

So, if we pay attention to those, especially when we are practicing, and we listen to ourselves talking through a pitch and we really just try to focus on breathing and not talking in-between those point, we’ll be able to practice the ums and uhs and filler words out of our pitch.

Being Extremely Nervous

Sometimes you can’t avoid being nervous when you are pitching your investors. After all, there is alot on the line. The investor knows what he wants to see and you don’t necessarily know this. And without simulating stress, you might be caught off guard with just how nervous you really are, once you finally get that meeting. 

Being nervous causes all kinds of things to happen to us. Filler words are just one of the symptoms. We have a tendancy to over-talk to overcome our anxiety. And filler words give us tons of ammo for overtaking. In fact, you might fill up an entire sentence with filler words as you stammer through your presentation. And you might not even notice you are doing this. Being nervous is a huge problem for effective pitching and there is nothing quite like talking to people who hold the future of your company in their hands, to bring out the nervousness in the best of us. 

For more about overcoming nerves while you pitch, check out our in-depth guide here. Don’t let this hold you back. You can overcome your nervousness. Read on to see more.

How do I stop saying “um” during my investor pitch?

Remember as our friendly GI Joe Hero says: “Knowing is half the battle.” Most of the reasons we use filler words are unconscious. Knowing where you are likely to fill is a great way to become more aware and it’s the first step to overcoming the tendency to use filler words. The previous section helped us become more aware of these unconscious tendencies. The next section will help us actually eliminate the filler words all together. It can be done. It will take a little work, but that work will pay off in many ways. 

Practice Your Story

1. Practice

Practice helps you get comfortable and confident in front of an audience. And being able to talk through things when you’re pitching in a confident way is really going to help you. When you pitch confidently, and you get allot of practice you’re going to get rid of those ums automatically.

2. Tell your Story

When you tell a story rather than recite memorized lines, you are more likely to use a more natural voice. Thinking about your story, rather than what you’re going to say, is at the heart of making a great pitch and not having to rely so much on your brain during the delivery of it. 

If this is hard for you to do, work with a pitch script expert to help you craft a story you can embrace and get behind. Once you know your story, you can practice it. Overtime it will get better and the chance for filler words coming in will go down as you get more comfortable with it.

Watch those Transitions

Pay close attention to exactly when you are naturally going to use filler words. As we mentioned above, transitions are the most likely place in your pitch where filler words are going to be used. These act like a crutch to get over the awkwardness of the moment.

As we’re moving from one topic to another or transitioning slides, our brain is trying to help us by filling in the space. This has the effect of keeping you feeling in control. But for your audience it’s distracting and at the worst annoying.

Pay attention to the fact that you are going to say um between slides and instead just try to pause.

Embrace the Pause

Try to just breathe, put a little space in the transition. Instead of filling that discomfort with the sound of filler words. At first, this is going to feel a little weird. Did we say a little? We meant it’s going to feel very weird.

It might even make you more nervous to do this. That’s why it’s critical you learn to pause in practice.And you practice often enough to where it starts to feel natural. We think you’ll get to the point where you’ll actually feel the difference and be more uncomfortable saying filler words than just pausing. 

Learning to pause in front of an important investor for the first time could actually make your pitch worse. So definitely practice on your own and work to simulate stress so you can get the most out of your practice sessions. Try events in your area like 1 Million Cups to help you simulate stress, get great feedback, and maybe even have an ah counter in the audience that’s helping you fine tune your pitch. These are great ways to raise your awareness. And knowing is… Thanks G.I. Joe!

After some practice you’ll see that you actually feel more in control with good use of pausing. There is no reason to take up space the entire time you are speaking. When you pause you give your audience an opportunity to hear you and for that information to come in. So just pause. Embrace the space. Don’t feel uncomfortable not talking the entire time. 

Talk With Your Audience, Not to Them

The power of story is that it brings your audience along with you. You can really use story to your advantage to create emotional connections with your audience. Story can also to help you eliminate filler words they come from thinking too rigidly about what you’re talking about. Think about walking into your next investor pitch, with a powerful story they get your investor engaged, excited, and interested in learning more about your business. This is the kind of story we want to create. And having the investor at the center of that story allows you to talk with them instead of to them.

Preparing a pitch in this way keeps you conversational. It allows you to adapt to changing situations. It allows you to pause more as you build tension in between concepts. And ultimately it draws out the emotional connection from your audience allows them to participate in your pitch. I am I think a pitch is a one-way conversation but when done correctly it really is a two-way conversation. And you’ll know it’s effective when that two-way conversation happens on a deeper level during your Q&A session or post pitch discussions.


What do you think? Is that how you get rid of filler words? What else works for you? What other challenging times do filler words rear their ugly heads? Have you guys done anything different that you’ve seen success with? We would love to hear about it in the comments below. How have you gotten rid of your “ums” and “uhs” and filler words in your pitches?

Happy Pitching!

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