Fairly or not, people judge you for how you speak just as much as they do for what you say.
Brilliant and hard-working as you may be, if your way of speaking comes across as immature or all over the place, then people — especially your bosses and co-workers — will probably have a hard time taking you seriously.
As a public speaking coach, I always stress that the key to respect and credibility is to be be direct, succinct and informative. And you can start doing that by avoiding these five types of words and phrases:
1. Facts that are already in your slide deck
- “This slide shows we had $3 million in sales this year.”
- “As you can see here, we had 10 clients in 2020, and 14 in 2021.”
- “Just to show how we stack up against our competitors, here on slide nine is a side-by-side comparison between the features we offer versus some of the other key players in our space.”
- “Our team has deep industry experience, as you can see from this slide showing our seven principles, whose names I will read out loud!”
When you read from your slides as if your audience is illiterate (and bloat your explanations with extras like “as you can see here”), you diminish your authority by wasting everyone’s time.
Visuals are great for illustrating and enhancing your point. Your job, as a speaker, is to add value. Never tell people what they already know. Talk about what is good, bad or otherwise meaningful about the information in your slide deck.
- “This research was finicky, just like my mother-in-law.”
- “This data took weeks to uncover. It was annoying, because our vendor was switching IT guys.”
- “Sorry, this deck is a mess. I’ve been busy traveling.”
- “So, I first got inspiration for this project from a guy I met in business school.”
When you divert attention by turning meetings into stand-up or show-and-tell hour, you position yourself as unserious, self-centered or inexperienced. Being smart in professional situations means staying on topic.
3. Filler words
- “You know?”
- “Like, … “
We tend to fall back on filler words when pause and think about what we’ll say next. You won’t be faulted for the occasional “umm” or “so,” but be aware that every syllable demands an equal amount of the other person’s attention. Getting rid of fillers makes you seem more focused and articulate.
4. Business jargon
- “Circle back”
- “Low-hanging fruit”
Saying “utilize” instead of “use” doesn’t make you look smarter. Business jargon adds bloat, not gravity, to your speech. And more often, it confuses — or inadvertently amuses — your audience. Say what you mean in plain speech.
5. Hedging words
- “Kind of”
- “Sort of”
- “I guess”
We use hedging words to seem reasonable, approachable or the opposite of bossy. These goals are lovely, but when time is money, extra words aren’t kind or pleasing — they’re distracting. Nothing shows respect like clarity. Don’t beat around the bush: People will appreciate you more when you say what you have to say.
John Bowe is a speech trainer, award-winning journalist, and author of “I Have Something to Say: Mastering the Art of Public Speaking in an Age of Disconnection.” He has contributed to The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine, GQ, McSweeney’s, This American Life, and many others. Visit his website here.