Want to wow audiences in your presentations and deliver your messages successfully? Avoid these 25 'death-dealing' words or phrases!
You're really ready for this speech or presentation, aren't you?
You have great content—and you know it cold. Your listeners are absolutely going to benefit from what you'll be giving them. In fact, you think it will change their lives for the better.
So the last thing you want to do is weaken your message by using language you could just as easily do without.
What about when you draw a blank in a speech, or forget parts of a list? "Yikes!" moments happen to all of us. But isn't it better to avoid one in the first place? Find out how to stay in The Zone when those risky moments sneak up on you. Download my essential cheat sheet, "Oops!— 5 Ways to Recover from a Brain Freeze."
In the spirit of combining your great message with effective delivery, here are 25 words or phrases you should avoid like the plague (damn . . . guess I should have included clichés). Keep in mind that there will be times when you might want to use a word or phrase below for specific effect. Generally speaking, however, stay away from the following.
Words and Phrases to Avoid in Your Presentations
- "I" or "me". This presentation is not about you! Even though you may be self-consciousness and feel anxious, it's still all about the audience. Replace every "I" or "me" with "you," "we," or "us." Keep the focus on your listeners, and you'll serve them and you.
- "A little bit." This is a phrase guaranteed to water down your content. "I'd like to talk a little bit about . . ." pales next to, "Let's discuss this year's important industry trends."
- "Just." Similar problem as with #2. For instance, compare these two options: a) "I just want to say that I think we face some problems"; and b) "Listen! — Our backs are to the wall here regarding these profit margins."
- "So . . ." Is this frequently the first word out of your mouth? Why? "So" indicates a continuation of a previous thought. Since this is the start of your presentation, what is there to be continuing?
- "Talk about." Often used repetitively and monotonously, sometimes with bullet points: "First, I'll talk about our competition. Then I'll talk about why we have to think differently. Then, I'll talk about our new initiatives. Then, I'll talk about how I'm watching you all now shoot yourselves!"
- "My topic is . . ." If you want to engage listeners immediately, you need to launch your presentation strongly. (See my article "How to Start a Speech — 12 Foolproof Ways to Grab Your Audience.") An opening that blandly announces your topic will fail in this respect. What's engaging about telling people something they already know?
- "I've been asked to speak about." A variation of item #6. Sometimes an attempt by the speaker to seem important.
- "Sorry if" or "Sorry for." Uh-oh. The speaker is apologizing for his or her presentation? "Sorry for this lengthy explanation. I couldn't figure out a way to say it simply." Okay, I invented that last sentence—but isn't that what it sounds like?
- "Excuse the eye chart." (Variation: "I know this slide is really busy.") Boy, haven't you heard that one before? Here, the speaker actually is apologizing for making a PowerPoint slide incomprehensible. If a presenter can't speak to everything on a slide in the time he or she shows it, the slide doesn't work. It needs to be boiled down or broken up into more slides, or the speaker needs to tell the audience that the full data are in the handout.
- "I'd like to start out with a story." Actually, this is only half-bad. A story is one of the flat-out most effective ways to open a speech or presentation. Its effect is considerably weakened, however, if you announce that you're about to tell a story. I call it "introducing the Introduction."
- "There's a funny joke . . ." Well, there may be. But you're setting yourself up for failure if the one you're now about to tell isn't funny. Just get right to it, i.e., start telling the joke as if you're relating something serious. When the audience recognizes the humor, it will be that much funnier. Even better than all that: use humor rather than a joke. It won't contain a punch-line, but it's much easier to relate to your actual topic.
- "Excuse me if I seem nervous." Although some people think saying this will get an audience on your side, I think announcing your nerves is a bad idea. Most nervousness isn't visible. Let the audience make the decision as to whether you look nervous. If they don't notice it, why tip your hand?
- "I'm not good at public speaking." Then go away.
- "I'm not a speaker." Yes, you are. Aren't you giving a presentation? Besides, you don't need to be a speaker unless you're on the speaking circuit. Just share what you have to say with us. We'll probably love it.
- "I've never done this before." You guessed it: this is instant death to your credibility. Again, do a good job and we'll L-O-V-E you!
- "Here are our key differentiators." A fine phrase except those last two words have been used a gazillion times and are now meaningless. Besides, your company's "key differentiators" are probably exactly the same as the next guy's.
- "I've divided them here into three buckets." Unless you work on a farm, are wearing a pail on your head, or are planning to kick said bucket as part of the entertainment value of your talk, I would avoid the "buckets" cliché.
- "Bear with me." (Not "bare with me," which would actually be interesting.) Typically said when the speaker is experiencing technical difficulties. We all do, of course. Why not have a back-up plan for keeping your audience interested if the technology doesn't cooperate? I tell my clients—and I really mean it—that they should be prepared to give their talk if they leave their laptop with their slides on it in the cab on the way in from the airport.
- "The next slide shows . . ." Transitions are vital elements of your speech or presentation. They help audience members negotiate the logic of your argument. You need to think about how to organically link your previous talking point with the one you're about to discuss. Don't appear to discover yourself what the next segment is all about only when the slide pops onto the screen.
- "Moving right along . . ." Truly the worst example of throwing one's hands up in the air because you don't know how to transition to your next point.
- "Obstacles!" or "Mergers!," or any single word or phrase that you blurt out to indicate what you're going to talk about next. Find that organic and logical transition, per item #19 above.
- "I think I've bored you enough." Oh, let's hope you haven't bored your audience at all. And if you have, do you have to twist the knife this way?
- "I didn't have enough time . . ." Whether what you say after these words is ". . . to prepare," ". . . to figure out what your needs were," or ". . . to do the necessary research for this presentation," you shouldn't be clueing your audience in to this dismal reality.
- "I'm running out of time, so I'll go through this quickly." It's probably not a good idea to announce to everyone your lack of time management skills in this presentation, wouldn't you say?
- "That's all I have." . . . "And so I didn't give any thought to considering carefully how to end a speech vividly and memorably. So I'll just jump off this cliff, and take you all with me!"
This blog was first published in 2014. It is updated from time to time.
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