25 Words or Phrases to Avoid in Speeches and Presentations
By Mihran Kalaydjian, CHA
Consultant, Strategist, and Writer
You’re really ready for this speech or presentation, aren’t you?
You have great content—and you know it cold. Your listeners will absolutely benefit from the information 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.
In the spirit of combining your great message with effective delivery, here are 25 words or phrases you should avoid like the plague (gee, I guess I should have included clichés). Anyway, here they are, each with a brief explanation for their inclusion in this list:
1. “I” or “me”. The presentation is not about you, period. Self-consciousness and anxiety aside, it’s about the audience. Replace every “I” or “me” with “you,” “we,” or “us.” Keep the focus on your listeners rather than you.
2.”A little bit.” This phrase waters down your content. “I’d like to talk a little bit about . . .” pales next to, “Let’s discuss the industry trends we need to consider.”
3.”Just.” Similar to #2. 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 regarding these profit margins.”
4. “So . . .” Often uttered as the first word out of a speaker’s mouth. (Now you’re thinking back to your last presentation, aren’t you?) But “so” is a continuation of a previous thought. And at the start of your presentation, nothing has come before.
5. “Talk about.” Used repetitively in a monotonous way: “First, I’ll talk about what our competition is doing. Then I’ll talk about why we have to think differently. Then, I’ll talk about our new initiatives.” Then, I’m sure you will all shoot yourselves!
6. “My topic is . . .” To engage listeners immediately, you have to launch your presentation strongly. (See my article on “12 Foolproof Ways to Open a Speech.”) An opening that blandly announces your topic will fail in this respect. What’s engaging about telling people something they already know?
7. “I’ve been asked to speak about.” A variation of #6, and usually an attempt by the speaker to seem important.
8. “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?
9.”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 than one slide, or the speaker needs to tell the audience the full data are in the handout.
10. “I’d like to start out with a story.” 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.”
11. “There’s a funny joke . . .” Well, there may be. But you’re setting yourself up for failure if it isn’t funny. Zero-sum game and all that. Believe me, if you simply start with the joke, it’ll have much more punch. Even better: use humor rather than a joke. It won’t contain a punch-line, and it’s much easier to relate to your actual topic.
12. “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 give the game away?
13. “I’m not good at public speaking.” Then go away.
14. “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.
15. “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!
16. “Here are our key differentiators.” A fine phrase except for the salient words. This language is so overused that your “key differentiators” in your industry probably aren’t any such thing.
17. “I’ve divided them here into three buckets.” Unless you work on a farm or are planning to kick said bucket as part of the entertainment value of your talk, I would avoid the “buckets” cliché.
18. “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 in the cab on the way in from the airport.
19. “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 introduce. Don’t appear to discover yourself what the next topic is when the slide pops onto the screen.
20. “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.
21. “Obstacles!” Or “Projects,” or any single word or phrase that blurts out what you’re about to discuss next. Find that organic transition, per Item #19 above.
22. “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?
23. “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,” you shouldn’t be clueing your audience in to this startling reality.
24. “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?
25. “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!”
Do you have any death-dealing words or phrases to add to my list?