Our verbal habits and mannerisms make what we say personal to us. They help us to sound natural and human, and they add character to what we are saying. However, many of us pepper our speech liberally with meaningless phrases or sounds. "Like" is a classic example, as is "er …" or "um …" and a new one is to start most sentences with "So"
There are a number of reasons why these sounds and expressions are so common. "Er" and "um" are used to gain some thinking time, and to act as a space holder, alerting our audience to the fact that we have not yet finished what we are saying. Expressions such as "like" are used in part to show that we are members of the same group, and that our group is different from others – we are different from our parents' friends, for example. If my friends say "like" all the time and I do not, I will sound different from them, and we generally want to mirror the language of those that we like or admire.
While using "like" too much matters relatively little when we are talking to our friends or family, the habit easily becomes so engrained that when we need to talk more fluently we can find it difficult to break out. In an interview, few prospective employers are impressed if we show that we are too dependent on verbal habits, especially when our work will involve talking to the public.
How, then, to break the habit.
The first key step is to be aware of the issue. Listen to what you are saying, and think about why you are saying it. Make a mental note of the words and phrases you would like to stop.
It can be very helpful to tell your friends and family what you are trying to achieve and why. If they over-use "like" themselves, then it could be that they will try to change their way of speaking too. At the very least, they will understand your motives and the reason that your language is changing.
Give yourself time to think while you are speaking. It is difficult to pause before or during speech to choose your next words, but slowing down and taking time is essential. If you are preparing for a formal situation, such as an interview, think about what you might say in advance, Think of the questions that might be posed and how you might respond. This can be helpful for everyday conversation at work too. Think in advance about what you might say when answering the phone or talking to a customer or colleague face to face.
Do not expect to be able to change completely and immediately. If your verbal habits are very entrenched they will take a while to break, so if you find yourself reverting to "like", do not get embarrassed or annoyed. Just take a moment and renew your focus before you continue.
A final tip is to increase your reading, as this can expand your vocabulary and give you new ways to structure what you want to say that feels right for you, as well as giving you more to talk about. Before long you will find that you severely use "like" at all, and your hard work has had results.