Don’t Let Verbal Viruses Destroy Message

Don’t Let Verbal Viruses Destroy Message

Curing Verbal Viruses in Your Speech

Damaging verbal filler words are sounds used in speech such as “um, like, ya know, stuff, uh-huh,” or noises that come from lip smacking, tongue clicking or throat clearing that is not necessary for your message.  When these type of filler words are used excessively, they become “verbal viruses” since they impair and breakdown the quality of your message and professional image. Any type of non-meaningful verbal noise made during your message can become a damaging verbal virus.  In the business world where communication is a key value, there can be no place for verbal viruses.  If you suffer from verbal viruses, don’t be dismayed.  The good news is, there is a cure.

Where do verbal viruses come from?
One causal factor for verbal viruses is nervous behavior.  When individuals are not feeling fully confident in speaking situations or become distracted by the physical and emotional factors, verbal communication is impacted as a result of anxiety.  After a while, it becomes a reinforced habit.  Some speakers are not even aware they have this habit until someone brings it to their attention.

Another cause is fast talking.  When speakers have a lot they want to say or become excited, their thoughts move faster than what their speech articulators can accommodate. As a result, a filler word gets injected into the statement to essentially “buy” time for the next thought to formulate.

Finding a Cure for Verbal Viruses

Before a verbal virus can be reduced, you must first increase your awareness of the behavior and have insight on how frequently it appears in your communication.

1.  Identify your personal filler words.
Identify the specific words and situations when it happens.  Does it occur all the time in general? Is it prevalent in specific situations such as speaking to an authority figure, specific individual, or group?

2.  Keep a tally.
Keeping a tally is an excellent approach for improving your awareness of verbal viruses.   Keep scratch paper with you, and each time you use a term not necessary for your message, add a tally mark.  Clients have reported to me that they are astounded at the amount of tally marks found on their paper.  This is an intervention for modifying it.

3.  Find support.
Elicit support from a trusted friend or colleague who can give you a signal or monitor every time a filler word is used. Former clients have commented that eliciting support has been a helpful experience.

4.  Rephrase it.
When you catch yourself using a verbal virus, and if it is natural, repeat or paraphrase your statement without the damaging verbal virus.  Rephrasing your statement will help reinforce your awareness.

5.  Use a carrier phrase.
Verbal viruses tend to appear between new thoughts.  Often someone will say, “umm” before they launch into a new idea.  One approach for eliminating verbal viruses is to transition into your next thought using a carrier phrase. A carrier phrase is a planned word or phrase that can be used as a bridge to transition over to your next idea. Listed below are examples for consideration:

  • Well
  • Actually
  • As a matter of fact
  • In addition to
  • By the way
  • Before we move on

Often verbal filler words are used as an immediate response to a question.  Someone will ask, and before the speaker provides information the word “um” is stated.  Verbal viruses appear automatically as filler while the speaker arranges his or her thoughts.  To combat this, plan carrier phrases in advance that will transition you to answer the question.

Examples are:

  • That is a timely, thoughtful, or good question.
  • Interesting point or interesting point of view.
  • I like where you are going with your thought.
  • You seem to have some good background knowledge or experience.
  • To be sure I understand, the question is…

Predicting questions and planning a response in advance will help with that sudden urge to use a filler word before providing the answer.  If you are going to speak on a topic or lead a meeting, chances are you can predict questions someone may want to ask.  A good planning strategy is to predict three to five questions that could possibly be asked.

6.  Just say it in your head.
If resisting the urge to say a verbal virus is just too intense (while you are working on trying to eliminate this habit from your speech), then go ahead and say it. However, say it to yourself in your head and then verbally continue with your message.  This is a win-win situation because you can use your verbal viruses freely, but your listener will never hear them.



Speech and Voice - Elizabeth Peterson


Elizabeth Peterson, Denver’s leading speech therapist and executive speech coach for over 22 years and is the author of Accent Reduction 101, Third Edition 2017 and Speak Like a Broadcaster & Lead Like a CEO, Third Edition 2017 . Learn More

We Offer Complementary Consultations

Please call 303-330-3309 or fill out the form below.


Please leave this field empty.

Our Denver Corporate Clients
Our Corporate Clients

Elizabeth Peterson M.A., CCC-SLP Speech Therapist

Speech Therapist & Executive Speech Coach for over 22 years
Licensed speech therapist in the State of Colorado
Certified with the American Speech Language Hearing Association
CSHA, Colorado Speech-Language-Hearing AssociationASHA, American Speech-Language Hearing Association

Member Login

Forgot Password?

Join Us

Password Reset
Please enter your e-mail address. You will receive a new password via e-mail.