9 weak words and crass cliches to avoid when you present

Frankie Kemp

13 September 2019

“For me, words are a form of action, capable of influencing change. Their articulation represents a complete, lived experience.”

—Ingrid Bengis (writer and entrepreneur)

With that in mind, how does this sound?

“I’m going to give you a presentation in which I’ll be trying to convince you how we’ll hopefully increase our leverage within the Japanese market so that, going forward, our silicon tubes will be sold more widely.”

When you present, the last impression you’d want to give is that of a talking report.  For Pete’s sake, we’d read the frickin’ report.

We want to hear YOU.

Use your real words, the way you genuinely express yourself (without turning the air blue – unless the context is right)

So go back to that presentation opening in italics, above.

As Ingrid Bengis states, we want a lived experience through your words.

How many items would need changing to make that sound natural and flowing?

I count EIGHT.

That includes clichés and weak words, preventing your words really sinking into the hearts and minds of others.

Here are the seven most common such phrases I hear when training others in presenting and pitching, plus what you can use instead.

1) ‘Presentation’

Unless you’re talking about, say, how to do a presentation, the word ‘presentation’ as in “In this presentation, I shall tell you about…” is a bit of a dampener. It implies someone will talk at them, bombard them with slides and leave them with eyelids as heavy as concrete blocks.  Instead use the simpler, “I’m going to show you / talk to you about…”; “Now, you’ll hear about…”

2) ‘I’m going to sell you’

Good selling makes the customer feel like they’ve bought not that they’ve been sold too. You will rarely think you’ve bought because of a selling technique but of your perceived choice to buy.  There’s no substitute here: just don’t say it.  By the time you’ve finished talking about your car that runs on nothing but vinegar, they’ll buy.

3) ‘I’m going to convince you’

As soon as you say that, your audience is already thinking, ‘No, you’re not!’ Anyway, what convincing do you have to do? Your case should be self-evident or, at least, your belief should shine through.

4) ‘hopefully’

As in, “Hopefully, by the end of this, you’ll realise how little these changes will trouble you.”  So, you’re living in hope? Giving the impression of being convinced and convincing is a vital ingredient to win your audience over. So, drop the ‘hopefully’: it sounds like you’ve got your fingers crossed behind your back!

5) Things/stuff/nice/cool

Even if you’re presenting to an audience who have their jeans around their bum cheeks, articulacy is always admired. Other words for ‘things’, for example, can be ‘facets’, ‘elements’, ‘possessions’. ‘Cool’ can be ‘smart’, ‘impressive’, ‘sleek’ or ‘fresh and clean-looking’. Don’t get me started with ‘stuff’ and ‘nice’….just find one of thousands of words that can replace these ones.  There’s over 171,000 words currently used in the English language.  I’m sure you’ll have no trouble finding a replacement.

7) ‘Going forward’

Where? Into a black hole?  Replace this with ‘From now on…’ ; “The next time we need to run this event…” etc.

8) ‘Thinking out the box’

Usually said by the most ‘in-the-box’ people.  Creative people don’t know what the box even looks like.  Use, instead, “We need to find a solution we’ve not tried yet,”; “Thinking more laterally will break us free from old contraints,”; “Let’s do something we’ve not done before.”

9) Using the Passive Voice instead of the preferred Active Voice

‘The machine is broken’ – This is the ‘passive voice’
Use when:
• you need to avoid apportioning blame or responsibility
• you don’t know who did an action
• it is not necessary to know who did an action

‘Fran broke the machine’ – This is the ‘active voice’
Use when:
• you need to sound more conversational
• you speak unless you need to use the passive voice (see above!)

When writing reports, we’re generally encouraged to write in the passive voice for business. However, it’s the active voice that you need for the majority of your presentations. This will add a more conversation tone.

These clichés and weak words are so commonly peddled about that they no longer have any meaning.

Remember, a presentation is a dialogue with one person speaking most of the time.  Making it sound like a report will alienate you from your audience. Talking like you are when the shackles are off will engage them.


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