Friday, September 3, 2010

Words to Avoid

“Well basically, fourscore and seven, uh, years ago, you know, I think, our forefathers, uh…”

Junk words are those extraneous words (and sounds) that add no value to your message. When used frequently, they diminish your power and credibility. Be direct with your statements. Having to search for the message under the junk words is like digging for hidden treasure – we know it is there somewhere, but we might lose patience and give up.

Here are some common examples:

  • “Uh” – Using good eye contact is the best cure for eliminating this word (or sound) from your vocabulary. Watch others as they speak. The “uh” occurs when the person is looking at the floor or up towards the ceiling – somewhere other than another person’s eyes. It is okay to look elsewhere to gather your thoughts – just don’t speak while doing so. 
  • “You know” – Actually, I do not and I’m hoping you will tell me. 
  • “Basically” - “Basically, we are going to attend the meeting.” Either you are, or you are not. The word “basically” adds no value in most cases. 
  • “Obviously” – This word can sound condescending. It may not be obvious to some in your audience. If it is obvious to everyone, then why bother to say it? 
  • “Whatever” - “You can get from here to the airport on a bus or whatever...” What? A train, a pony, a pig? What is this word telling us? 
  • “Like” – If your intention is to sound like a teenager, then continue to disperse this word throughout your presentation. However, if your goal is to come across as an expert and trusted business advisor, then use this word only when describing how something is similar to something else. 
  • “Unbelievable” – Think about the meaning of this word. If you are trying to persuade someone, then this may not be your best choice.
  • “I want” – Many presenters tend to say something like this, “Today I want to show you…” or “During the next couple of minutes, I want to tell you about…” These phrases imply that it is about what you want (as the presenter) rather than what your audience wants. As the old saying goes, your audience does not care about you until you demonstrate that you care about them. Try removing “I” statements, especially during the first few minutes of your presentation. It’s simple to do. Try these, “Today you will discover…” or “During the next couple of minutes, you will learn about…” 

Most presenters are not aware that they are using junk words habitually. If you are uncomfortable coaching them, then leave them a short, gentle, anonymous note. I once did this with a former boss who frequently used the word “irregardlessly.” After he left for the day, I left an anonymous note on his desk informing him that there is no such word. It did the trick. I hope he doesn’t read my blog.


John said...

Mark- I agree that a delivery that features any of these phrases in excess will miss it's mark badly. However, in some instances, the use of these phrases judiciously can actually build rapport wit the audience. For example, I reviewed Sarah Palin's most recent speech (Aug. 28 at the Restoring Honor rally in DC) and found that her use of some fillers/qualifiers (such as "you know...") helped to create what feels like a conversation, thus building a connection. The contrast to this style is the professorial manner, which from a delivery perspective, may be contributing to Obama losing traction with his messages. Anyway, more of my analysis on Palin's delivery can be found at:

The Presenter's Coach said...

John, right you are! A few um's or uh's will not hurt a thing. I think you'll agree that we want to avoid using junk words to the point when they become distracting. In other words, when members of the audience pay more attention to the number of um's than they do to our message.

TJ said...

All valid points, but I find many speakers obsess over avoiding using junk words and phrases and don't spend enough time figuring out how to say something really interesting. Isn't that more important?

The Presenter's Coach said...

TJ, excessive use of junk words compete with your message. When members of your audience start counting the um's instead of focusing on your message, then you've lost the competition for attention. Everyone should develop their own style, and for a rare few, that style can include phrases that endear them to their audience. This is a rare talent and I don't recommend it for most presenters.

I do agree that a presentation without a well-developed message is a waste of time, no matter how well you speak.