Words That Flick The Turn Off Switch

During meetings, whether they’re one-to-one or group gatherings, there are certain words or phrases that make you want to switch off.

A big part of communications skills training is knowing when words or phrases you use as a matter of course are sending the wrong signals, particularly when you otherwise had no idea that they make your listener inwardly recoil.

Communications coaching includes understanding how people think when we use such language.  To that end, here’s a list of words and phrases to avoid if you want to keep your audience switched ON.

  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. Your audience will be preparing themselves for being talked at and bombarded with slides, when really you want a more dynamic interaction where input is two-way and the discussion is open-ended, even if you initially have information to ‘present’. A presentation can feel like a discussion, even when it isn’t using techniques here.
  1. ‘I’m going to sell you…’
    Good selling makes the customer feel like they’ve bought, not that they’ve been sold to. We naturally have a suspicious view of anyone that seems to be using obvious sales techniques to flog us their product or service. If you have decided to purchase anything, it won’t be because you love their sales method but down to your perceived choice to buy. We like to think we are in control, so attempting to ‘sell’ something to your listeners is an immediate turn-off.
  1. ‘I’m going to convince you’
    As soon as you say that, your audience is already thinking, ‘No, you’re not!’ This is a follow-on from the selling technique, and if anything, is even more likely to bring the shutters down. Anyway, what convincing do you have to do? Your case should be self-evident or, at least, your belief should shine through. So trying to ‘convince’ someone suggests straight away that they won’t take your information at face value and are probably right to do so.
  1. ‘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 certain and committed is a vital ingredient in winning your audience over. So drop the ‘hopefully’; it sounds like you’re taking a spurious punt and you’ve got your fingers crossed behind your back!
  1.  ‘At the end of the day’
    This is usually followed by a ‘fact’ of some sort and an excuse for not doing something. You might as well say ‘at the end of the day, I can’t be bothered’ or ‘there’s not much we can do’. It exudes negativity and a sense of hopelessness.
  1. ‘Going forward’
    Where? Into a black hole? This is woolly corporate jargon with no meaning and in popular vernacular has widely become accepted as something of a joke ‘management speak’ phrase.
  1. ‘Thinking out the box’
    Usually said by the most ‘in-the-box’ people because being creative doesn’t come naturally to them. When asking people to be creative and think laterally, make the creativity intrinsic to the task. For example, if they’re to be resourceful in the same way as before, such as in a meeting, this is not enough to encourage originality.  If you want to get started quicker – or learn to be more creative yourself, go here and get the download.
  1. ‘Pushing the envelope’
    Does this mean taking risks? Making the work more challenging? Improving skills? It’s too unspecific to have any real meaning, so just say what you really mean.
  1. ‘But’
    I’m not saying that you have to avoid this but…..Let’s say you’re giving feedback and remark, “I agree to a point but…” at this point the listener will tense up. What they hear next will drown out anything you’ve agreed with and only leave them with what’s said after ‘but’.  You continue, “but won’t this take too long?”  And now all the initial positivity is replaced by what may seem as a criticism or blanket sweeping aside a suggestion.  Use the word ‘but’ judiciously because it tends to weigh more on what comes after it than before in certain situations, and is often used to precede an excuse. I was once in a strategic discussion where my proposal was flipped like a pancake by a very talented company Director.  Not once did he use ‘but’.  Instead he used these phrases here to contradict me without seeming to do that at all.
  1. ‘Things/stuff/nice/cool’
    These words are very unspecific.  By sloppy labelling, your reactions and references in written and verbal communication are left wide open for misinterpretation. Articulacy is a component of credibility. In addition, the more accurate you are with your language, the less time it takes to express yourself.  Even if you are presenting to an audience who have their jeans around their bum cheeks, articulacy is always admired. Other words for ‘things’, for example, can be ‘aspects’, or ‘possessions’. ‘Cool’ can be ‘unshaken, ‘elegant’, ‘sleek’ or ‘fresh and clean-looking’. Find one of thousands of words that can replace these. (There are around 200,000 words in English so you’ve plenty to choose from…)
  1. ‘Myself’ and ‘Yourself’ etc
    You use ‘myself’ if: you wash yourself; you go by yourself; you do the work yourself. This is called the ‘reflexive pronoun’. Using the reflexive is often adopted as it seems more professional.  However, it’s not only grammatically incorrect but also fake-professional.  Imagine yourself meeting an old friend:

“How are you?” you ask,

“Fine,” they respond excitedly, “yourself?”

It jars in natural language.  Because it isn’t natural, it feels ‘fake-professional’.

If you think avoiding these words and phrases will improve how people pay attention during meetings, then look at my communication training courses, or storytelling courses for tech and business. These courses explore how language and self-expression can also improve your presenting skills in meetings. To discuss how I can help you or your people, contact me today: no obligation to buy.  Let’s chat to see if I can support you.

This article was originally published in 2011 and updated in September 2023.

What have I missed on my list?  Add them in the comments!

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