You might be the smartest person in the room, but if you have a bad habit of using speech tics - such as er, um, like, you know and sort of – noone’s going to know. So, here’s how to tame your tongue, courtesy of Real Simple magazine. Geoffrey Nunberg is a linguist and chairs the “usage panel” of the American Heritage Dictionary. He says, believe it or not, each speech tic means something. For example, using ‘er’ and ‘um’ means you’re hesitating, or about to. “Like” is shorthand for “It felt like,” a way of putting a person in the moment with you. “You know” establishes solidarity or common ground. “Sort-of” suggests that you don’t know if the words you’re using are entirely appropriate. Nunberg says we use these speech tics when we’re planning what to say next, to keep the floor and to fill silence. But when you overuse them, you risk boring or even losing your audience.

So how do you break the habit? If you do it a lot, SLOW DOWN when you speak. This puts distance between your thoughts and words, giving you time to plan ahead – so you’ll automatically cut down on filler words. Another strategy is to maintain eye contact when talking. Then, when you feel yourself heading for a tic, slowly look down. According to CEO and communication strategist Andrew Gilman, concentrating on moving your eyes will keep you from speaking. Stay quiet until you’ve formulated what you want to say next, then look up again. The pause will actually work in your favor – by adding emphasis to your point.

If you have to do a lot of public speaking, really focus on your audience. It can be hard to know where and when to look if you’re talking to a large group. So, Gilman suggests the STOP method – “single thought, one person.” For each new point you make, lock eyes with someone different. This’ll help you speak more deliberately, and alleviate all kinds of tics.