Guy Writes: I’ve been editing the next edition of my podcast, the Near Futurist, and if I say so myself it’s a good one. I take little credit, the interviewee was engaging and really knew his stuff – but I have had to eliminate fillers to make him sound better.
Let’s put it another way: he was one of those people, who, typically of speakers for the last ten years or so, started almost every response with “so”. It’s a good filler to eliminate and it’s worth explaining why.
Eliminate some fillers
First I should make my view clear. “Eliminate fillers” isn’t an absolute command. You can’t take out every “umm” and “aah” and nor should you; if you answered a journalist or podcaster in an interview and got rid of all of them you’d sound unnatural. Most listeners would assume you were reading from a script and that’s never good.
Unless they’re excessive, then. most fillers can stay. There’s an exception though, and that’s “so”. The reason is straightforward: it can actually end up damaging your answer.
I should explain.
Eliminate fillers at the beginning of an answer
Most people who use “so” other than as a conjunction to link two clauses (“I did a big workout so I am tired” is fine) will use it to start an answer to a question. As a journalist I might ask how a company takes its products to the market and the answer might be “So we find the indirect channel works best for us”.
Now ask yourself: would that be stronger or weaker without “So”, as a standalone answer? To me the answer is simple – “so” takes the edge off. In my podcast I’ll try to get rid of it as often as possible and we’ll come to the practicalities in a second. First it’s worth looking at why people use it.
It’s better than “Umm…”
The subhead gives you my best answer. People start with “so” because they feel they have to start speaking immediately and they don’t want to begin “umm…”. In either case it wouldn’t be a comment on their subject knowledge. They just want a second to think and are terrified of silence.
Here’s the big secret: I can cut silence whilst editing my podcast. Radio and TV interviewers can do the same and there’s never any need to worry in a written interview.
But if I’m going to cut it out anyway, where’s the harm? Here’s when it becomes difficult.
An inconvenient stop
“So” tends to flow into the next word. If you start your interview “So I did such and such” and I try to cut “So” out, it can end up sounding like “why did such and such”.
It makes no sense and the listener will soon sort it out in their head but consciously or otherwise they will be distracted. This is why you don’t want “so” at the beginning of an answer – it can make the next word, once “so” is cut off, sound as if it’s starting abruptly. This is why starting with “so” can actually damage your quote; it will sound less natural when it’s removed.
The alternative is better.
I don’t mind listening to you thinking
Your instinct is to start speaking immediately so nobody ends up with silence on their broadcast or podcast. That’s considerate but as we’ve established, we can deal with that. Anyway you don’t work for us, you want to ensure your point is clear and well-made. So here’s what you do.
You take a second. You gather yourself and you think “I’m going to start here and finish there” and then you answer. The result will be the same answer you were going to give – media training is not about lying or removing an honest view from a quote – but better. You’ll have a strong start and a strong finish because you’ve taken a second to plan it.
It’s not a natural technique. We tend to launch into answers immediately, talk over each other a little, stop and start again. It takes getting used to.
It’s more useful to you, though, than starting everything with “so”. If you can get rid of that habit it will pay you handsomely.
Need a hand with your presentation or media interview skills? We can help – email Lindsay and she’ll set us a time for an initial chat.