10 Phrases That Can Irritate – and Aggravate – Your Audiences

10 Phrases That Can Irritate – and Aggravate – Your Audiences

The best speakers are made, not born.

How did they get great? By making mistakes.

Over time, they eliminated the elements of their delivery and content that weren’t working, that were weakening their connection with their listeners.

Now, they speak “cleanly” – with plenty of short, declarative sentences, lots of inflection up and down, frequent pauses, virtually no “ahs” or “ums,” and a minimum of words and phrases that run the risk of irritating and aggravating their audiences. And after three years of Covid-related angst, audiences are more easily annoyed than ever.

The best speakers never presume to tell their listeners what their listeners are thinking, and they rarely tell them what to do, as in “everybody stand up!” (Stuff like that infuriates me. Of course, I’m easily irritated, but still. I’d never comply.)

You won’t be able to inspire and influence your audiences if your very narrative chips inexorably away at your relationship, and, in many cases, your credibility. Here, in ascending order of their capacity to irritate, are phrases you should never use in a presentation.

1.“Let me tell you a little bit about myself.”

You don’t have to inform your listeners that you’re going to provide a brief biography – just do it. And never use the phrase, “a little bit.” It weakens your narrative, and undercuts your authority.

2. “Kind of. Sort of.”

No adult should ever employ either of these reprehensible expressions in a professional (or, for that matter, private) setting. They’re feeble, equivocating phrases ostensibly designed to protect the speaker from taking full responsibility for a statement or position. In fact, they make you sound like an insecure teenager, ready to quickly reverse your point of view if the “in” crowd doesn’t like what you have to say.

If you’re going to say something, put pauses or “space” around it, and say it – right between the eyes.

3. “Some of you may already have heard this story.”

Just tell the story, already, and don’t tie yourself into knots worrying about who’s heard it, and who hasn’t. Most people don’t mind hearing the same information more than once. In a way, it’s reassuring. However, make sure you deliver the material with passion and insight. Do that, and even the oldest story becomes new again.

4. “I know some of these slides are difficult to read.”

You’re serious, right? 

You created the slides, or at the very least reviewed the deck prepared by others. As the presenter, you’re ultimately responsible for how they’re structured. If you don’t like them beforehand, fix them, and if you get pushback from senior management, go to the mat to get them changed. After all, the outcome of the presentation will reflect upon you. 

5. “Like.”

As in, “Like, I totaled the van.” Before Covid, when I took the subway, I was unfortunately privy to ongoing dialogue between fellow passengers. I used to count how many times they’d use the word “like” in their spellbinding discussions. It was stunningly high, and I often wished I could exit the train – between stops.

Every time you’re tempted to improperly use “like,” replace it with silence. You’ll improve as a speaker, exponentially, and the universe will thank you.

6. “For those of you who don’t understand.” 

Yikes. With that statement, you’ve effectively told your listeners they don’t possess the intellectual capacity to comprehend the brilliance that is you. It’s not a great way to strengthen the audience connection.

7. “I know I’m over my time.”

You simply can’t exceed your allotted speaking time. It’s rude, and disorganized. It will undermine your credibility, and much of the goodwill you’ve built up during your presentation. Always aim to finish at least five to 10 minutes under your limit. No one will object. I promise.

8. “In conclusion.”

This is a straight out of public school.

You really don’t have to say “in conclusion” to let listeners know you’re coming to the end. It’s an amateurish cliché. Did I mention that I don’t like it?

There are all kinds of ways to roll into the wrap-up. Some speakers ask themselves questions, such as: “Where do we go from here?” or “What are the lessons learned?”, or “What’s the first thing we need to do?”, and then answer them.

And please, no “thank you” slides. The opening and closing remarks should be delivered against the background of a title slide. Nice symmetry there. The title slide’s re-appearance (with contact information added) will indicate to the audience that you’re rolling into your conclusion.

9. “Did that answer your question?”

What if, in the question-and-answer session following your formal remarks, an audience member asked a question, you responded, and then said: “Did that answer your question?”

What if the person said “no?” I’ve seen it happen. There wouldn’t be a place for you to go – other than to attempt another response, under extreme pressure.

Always conclude your answer on a positive point, finding the common ground. If the questioner has a follow-up, dispatch it quickly, and offer to respond in greater detail after the presentation.

10. “Did you hear the one about the…?”

You’re messing with me, right? You’re going to tell a joke? In times like these?

There’s an old saying in the presentation skills business – three things can happen when you tell a joke, and two of them are bad. (The “humour” can either bomb, offend, or both.) Unless you’re a confident, experienced raconteur, don’t risk it.

We live in a highly diverse world, and what we may think is hilarious could be off-putting or even insulting to others. If you do decide to employ humour, make it self-deprecating, but again, that can be tricky. Make sure you have the credibility and standing to make it work.

We should, all of us, be real, which appears to be increasingly challenging for Canadian politicians.

Whenever they start to overuse a word, you know it’s time to pull it back. The latest such term? Conversation, as in, “We need to have a conversation,” or “We’ll be having conversations.”

Simpler and shorter is always better, and more authentic. How about, “We need to talk.”

The distinction is slight, but really important. Audiences are smart. They know when language is employed pretentiously, used by speakers to elevate themselves, to appear smarter, more clever, “with it.”

In fact, it works against them, and us. The English language should be used to bring us together, not stratify us.

Speaking simply, clearly, and authentically – like you do with a trusted friend – is always the way to go.

 Jim Gray is a Senior Communications Advisor in Oakville, Ontario.

No Comments

Post A Comment