Exceptional Speakers go far beyond delivering interesting content. They also strive to construct their sentences using words that are easy to understand.
Of course, the best way to get your message across and secure your objective is to say what you mean. This is best done by speaking clearly and using simple language. You’d think that should be easy. It seems it is not.
Far too many folk think that the podium is the ideal opportunity to regale their audience with a regurgitation of the most popular stock phrases of the early 21st century that they’ve internalised through hours of dedicated TV viewing.
Here are some of the treats I repeatedly hear when evaluating presentations – and they really are treats.
- “Going forward.” The alternative being…? It’s much better to simply say “in the future.”
- “To be honest with you” or “let’s be honest here.” And the rest of the time you were being …what?
- “Take it to the next level”. Which is where exactly?
- Somehow the phrase “you know” (phonetically “ye know”) has now become an addictive compulsory additive to some folk’s sentences, often repeatedly per sentence, and sometimes delivered like rapid machine gun fire. First, mostly no we don’t know, and secondly it makes you sound nervous and desperate.
- “Engage all the stakeholders” which is a merely a wishy washy euphemism for “drilling down” and finding nothing. Besides, when does this ever truly happen? Perhaps everyone could simply discuss the details (in their respective silos).
- It’s a “challenging” situation. A challenge is an invitation to a dual of some sort. This silly phrase is generally used to denote difficulty. Why not use the word difficult – it sounds so much better.
- The greeting “Hi guys” or simply referring to your audience as “you guys”. The word guy is a casual reference to a man, usually one of similar age or station to you, or your junior. So the collective “guys” referring to an audience or a couple, especially when they are your senior by a generation is inappropriate. You disagree? Then how would it go down if a 22 year old intern pops his head into the boardroom and enquires ““Hows everyone doing today, guys?” Sound OK to you?
- This brings me to “Hows everyone doing today?” This hideously stupid question assumes that everyone is feeling exactly the same and will bellow out in a lemming like crowd response “All right!” which in itself means mediocre but is intended to denote “great thanks for asking!”. The intention of this question is crowd hypnosis – it’s very patronising.
- The word “like” either means similar to or indicates a positive preference. This renders the word unsuitable as a triple insertion into a single sentence, like.
- “So without any further adieu, I’d like to introduce the next speaker”. It’s actually “ado”, since “adieu” actually means goodbye in old French, related to the Spanish “adios”.
- “Downsizing” meaning firing the folk you recently employed and trained at great expense, or the more politically preferred “rightsizing” because you thought your best month was your average and just got it all wrong, so now you need to fire folk.
- “Absolutely!” with the emphasis squarely on “lute” usually repeated several times on autopilot in response to questions and sometimes meaning “well almost but not quite”. This shows a lack of imagination. Then there’s the confusing “I couldn’t agree more”. Surely you either agree or disagree?
The problem is – just about everyone is using these expressions these days, which is precisely why you should not.
English is a beautiful language which has withstood persistent attempts to dismantle and pulverise it’s gracefulness over the centuries. It’s slaughter should be vigorously discouraged, it’s virtue valiantly defended and it’s survival steadfastly guarded.