Filler words, such as “uh,” “um,” and “ah,” are often inserted unconsciously in a speech to fill pauses. While fillers may not significantly detract from the content of the message being conveyed, they can make the speaker appear less confident or professional, reducing the speaker’s credibility with the audience. The primary cause for the frequent use of filler words is nervousness, speaking too quickly, or not having enough preparation time.
Research shows that to reduce the use of fillers the speaker must first become aware of their use of filler words, then have some reinforcing feedback system, and finally have the training to replace the use of fillers with silent pauses or a slower speaking pace. This method of awareness, training and practices can now be done with a smartphone and smartwatch for personalized and individual speech training.
It is difficult for speakers to notice their undesirable speaking patterns and use of excess filler words. Speakers can become aware of their use of filler words with the help of observations and feedback from mentors, colleagues, or professional speaking coaches.
Another way for a speaker to become aware of the excess use of filler words on their own is by reviewing recordings or transcripts of a conversation, speech, or presentation. However, professional speech coaches suggest that feedback is particularly effective when delivered in real-time so the speaker can practice adjusting speaking patterns immediately.
Smartphones and smartwatches have built-in microphones that can detect ambient conversations, much the way that a smart home device can listen from across a room for commands or a speaker can put the phone on speakerphone and have a conversation from many feet away. Some smartphones also have an always-on listening mode which can be triggered by specific keywords, so that the phone can perform a task or execute a command without the need for manual input. This basic function can be adapted using software on the phone and watch to provide a real-time feedback-based intervention system that makes the speaker aware without help or latency in review.
In the instance of a smartphone/smartphone acting as the real-time feedback-based intervention system, it can serve as both the method of providing awareness and the reinforcing action required to change speaking patterns. Research suggests that to effectively reduce excess filler word use that after the speaker becomes aware of the undesirable word/sound, that a physical tap to the leg, for example, helps redirect the attention and reinforce the awareness. Haptics on a smartwatch refers to the use of tactile feedback to provide a sense of touch when interacting with the device. This can include vibrations or other types of physical sensations, which allows the watch to communicate information to the user in a more discreet way. Haptic systems in the smartwatch and smartphones can provide speakers with the reinforcing action through the haptics without the speaker having to do so themselves or require another person to be involved.
The final step to retraining speech is intervention. Speech therapists and speaking coaches offer recommendations for techniques to practice. Habits are difficult to break, so therapists use habit reversal or competing response training, offering a substitute habit to practice replacing the unwanted habit, in this case, filler words. Research has shown that competing response training is effective in reducing many difficult-to-break habits in adults and children, including motor tics such as head shaking, eye blinking, facial tics, and nervous habits such as nail biting, hair pulling, scratching, and stuttering. Smartphones have the capability of providing information and techniques that a professional speech coach would provide, replacing the in-person experience and offering alternatives to practice. The limitation is the discipline that the in-person experience provides.
A smartphone/smartwatch real-time feedback system can provide effective awareness-based training to reduce filler word use. By providing immediate feedback and helping to retrain speech patterns, these methods can help individuals to improve their fluency and become more confident and professional speakers.
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