Certain Words and Phrases Can Undermine Your Credibility

two women shaking hands
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During the month of June, my posts have been focused on interpersonal communications skills. In this post, words and phrases that can undermine your credibility.

In your work, it’s important to be taken seriously and develop a good reputation among peers, bosses and clients. But sometimes, language can undermine your credibility without you even realizing it.

Communications skills are vital in every business setting, but sometimes gets overlooked in the digital workplace. The way we communicate says a lot about our professionalism and credibility. The way we communicate can reveal our level of confidence – or lack thereof. The last thing you want to do is undermine yourself in front of bosses or clients, especially potential clients.

Every time you speak, you may be sabotaging yourself with your language  which can impact your success in business and in your relationships. The most disconcerting thing is that most of the time, you may not be aware of how you’re putting a roadblock in your business success with your words and phrases.

So which words and phrases should we avoid? Career and presentation experts say the following are the biggest culprits.

1) “I’m no expert,” “I may be wrong,” and “This might sound crazy”

Experts say these phrases appear to warn listeners that what you’re about to say is trivial and irrelevant and not to be taken seriously. You come across as insecure in your thoughts. Why would they take your statement seriously if you don’t?

Before: “I may be wrong, but shouldn’t we do a little more market research before launching the new product line?”

Preferred: “Shouldn’t we do a little more market research before launching the new product line?”

2) “Just,” “I just thought,” etc.

Similar to the phrases above, any phrase containing the word “just” expresses uncertainty about your statement. It downplays your message so recipients aren’t likely to take it seriously. When you eliminate the word “just” as well as its companion phrases, you’ll come across more assertive and confident.

Before: “It’s just that it might be better to delay the project until next week.”
Preferred: “It might be better to delay the project until next week.”

3) “Does this make sense?”

When you conclude your presentation or speech with this question, it’s as if you doubt your own words and you’re looking for confirmation from your audience that they understand you. But a much simpler way to accomplish that is to ask, “Do you have any questions?”

4) “I think,” “I believe,” and “I feel”

Experts say these phrases act as a buffer that dilutes your message and shows a lack of assertiveness. You can always replace it with more confidence-building terms such as “I’m confident” or “I’m optimistic.”

That said, I don’t think these phrases should be avoided altogether because they do have a place in our everyday language. Since they’re often used to express opinions, they may be better suited for casual conversations. If you want to make an impression, however, avoid these buffers.

Before: “I think you’ll be impressed with the new production.”
Preferred: “You’ll be impressed with the new production.” Or “I’m confident you’ll be impressed with the new production.”

5. Avoid fillers.

Ever listen to someone’s presentation filled with “um,” “you know,” “kind of,” and other meaningless phrases? Speaking that way lends doubt to the content of the presentation, writes Jerry Weissman, founder of Power Presentations, Ltd. The speaker comes across as ill-prepared and not very knowledgeable. They may know the information inside and out, but their presentation, complete with “ums” and “you knows,” makes you wonder if they really do know what they’re talking about.

According to Weissman, the following fillers should be avoided:

“Sort of”
“Kind of”
“Um”
“Actually”
“Basically”
“Really”
“Anyway”
“Pretty much”

For most people, the hardest part is being aware of their language and how they come across in presentations. Sometimes it’s easier to notice these transgressions when other people speak, but see if you can pay more attention to your own speaking habits. Maybe record yourself when you give a short speech. How many times do you fill your presentation with “ums,” “you knows,” etc.?

Communications are often filled with unnecessary words and phrases that can undermine your credibility in business situations. Be aware of how you speak and self-edit so you make a strong confident impression with everyone you meet.

Just for fun:
Stop Saying Sorry When You Want to Say Thank You — comic

Decoding Nonverbal Cues in Interviews and Presentations

woman in teal dress shirt sits near wall
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Have you ever watched a comedian’s performance on stage when the jokes are making his audience laugh? Conversely, have you ever witnessed a comedian falter badly, knowing the jokes have fallen flat? The comedian knows, just by reading the audience’s reaction during the performance, whether his jokes are hitting the mark or not.

The ability to read an audience while performing is a useful skill in business too. Every time you interview for a job or make a presentation to a potential client, you have the chance to read the audience the way the comedian assesses theirs. But in the midst of performing, we can often forget to check in with the audience to notice how they are reacting to our message because we are more focused on our own behavioral responses.

How do you know if you have impressed your audience with your knowledge and credentials? How can you determine if the client is buying into your proposal? How can you determine if your responses are hitting the mark or if they are falling flat? There are numerous articles about how nonverbal communication can support our language during an interview or presentation. (You can find links to a few of them at the end of this article.) But few suggest how to “read” your audience’s nonverbal cues.

Usually business owners and employers are fairly practiced in maintaining a calm, non-committed demeanor. But if you pay close attention, they may send a few nonverbal signals showing the level of interest in you or your services. At the end of a meeting, the client or employer usually gives only a vague response, such as “We’ll get back to you next week.” Yeah, right, you think.

Any job seeker can tell you that the most frustrating aspect of interviewing is waiting for the call back. It’s difficult knowing what your fate is when it lies in someone else’s hands. By reading and understanding the employer’s or client’s nonverbal cues during the presentation, you can gain control of the process and keep the ball in your court.

It’s a delicate balance, staying aware of your own nonverbal communication while recognizing your audience’s. That can be difficult to achieve when you’re in the “heat of battle.” When you are focused more on your own nonverbal communications – remembering to smile, extending a firm handshake, making eye contact with each person in the room — it’s easy to miss the nonverbal cues your audience is sending you.

Generally speaking, nonverbal communication can reveal more about their intentions than anything they might say. Further what they say may not reflect what they’re really thinking. It’s up to you to cut through the clutter to read the message they’re really sending.

Here are four things to look at during your “performance”:

* Look at their body posture. Are they slouched or sitting up straight? If they lean forward, they’re paying close attention to what you’re saying. If they’re leaning back, they are cautious. If they’re leaning back in their chair with their arms folded in front of them, they’re not buying what you’re selling.

* Look at their head. Similar to their body posture, if their head leans in, they are paying close attention to you. If their head is tilted back, they may be more thoughtful and cautious. Watch their facial expressions too. If their eyebrows shoot up, they may be surprised. If their eyebrows are furrowed, they may be confused. Ask if they need you to clarify a point.

* Look at their eyes. It is often said that the eyes are the window to the soul. With that in mind, notice what kind of eye contact the client or employer is giving you. Are they looking at you or at other things, like their mobile phone, the note pad they’re writing on, or something else? The eyes can show pleasure or pain too. Do they look bored, like they can’t wait for the meeting to be over with, or are they enjoying something you said. Their eyes may be smiling even though their lips may not be.

* Look at their hands. What are their hands doing? Are they sitting calmly in their lap? Are they twisting a pen or playing with their wedding ring, which might be a sign they are nervous and eager to do something else. If they are taking notes, do they continue to scribble as you speak, or do they suddenly stop writing when you say something that gets their attention?  That might be a sign that you said something that did not sit right with them.

By staying aware of your surroundings and noticing the subtle signals from the people you are meeting with, you maintain control of the meeting process and you can leave with a clear idea where you stand with the client. You won’t have to wait for them to tell you “we’ll let you know next week,” because you’ll already have their answer.

Related Reading:

10 Nonverbal Cues That Convey Confidence at Work
How to Interpret Nonverbal Communications in the Office
Using Effective Nonverbal Communications in Job Interviews

Speech Writing Tips to Avoid Plagiarism

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Like many people, I read about the plagiarism accusations over Melania Trump’s speech at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland. Granted, I did not see the whole speech in which portions were nearly the same as sections from Michelle Obama’s speech at the DNC eight years ago. The speech writer, Meredith McIver, a long-time employee for the Trump organization, took responsibility and admitted wrongdoing. McIver admitted that when she worked with Melania on the speech, they reviewed Michelle Obama’s speech and lifted several sections that they liked.

Why bother looking at previous speeches from other individuals when the best source of information is the person sitting in front of you?

I’ve written a few speeches in my career. Small potatoes compared to a highly visible presentation during a major political convention in front of millions of TV viewers. Speech writing isn’t difficult, but there are a few factors to consider when preparing one.

1. Get details about the conference or meeting that’s about to take place. Who is the audience? Where will it take place? Does the conference have a theme? A speech geared toward a room full of women will have a distinctly different tone and content than one geared toward a mixed-gender audience. If the conference has a specific theme, say the organization’s 50th anniversary, you can weave in historical facts about the company throughout the speech.

2. Interview the speaker. Ask lots of questions about their motivation for speaking. What are their goals for speaking, their main talking points? What hot button issues are plaguing their industry? What issues keep you awake at night?

Try to limit their ideas to two or three to keep the speech short. Listen carefully to their responses, but also listen carefully to the way they speak. Be sure to capture the speaker’s vocal tone. How we speak in public is usually not the same as in writing.

3. Review past speeches – of the speaker. If the speaker has delivered presentations in the past, review them to get a sense of how they conduct themselves. Do they use certain turns of phrases that are unique to them? When preparing the speech, you’ll want to incorporate some of those unique phases.

There should be no reason to review speeches from other individuals. Doing so only tempts fate. Borrowing ideas from other speeches may seem innocent, but if they aren’t coming directly from your speaker, those ideas aren’t authentic. And you want to create as much authenticity in the speech to give the speaker credibility.

4. Do necessary research. In some situations, you might need to quote statistics, say about Internet usage among different demographic groups. Make sure those statistics are accurate, current, and attributed within the speech.

5. Practice reciting the speech. Write a draft of the speech first, then rewrite and rewrite until it sounds right. Test out the speech yourself by speaking in front of a mirror or in front of a handful of people. If you find yourself stumbling over certain awkward phrases and sentences, then you know you have some editing to do. Have the speaker review it and practice it. Incorporate the speaker’s revisions and practice it again. Keep doing this process until all parties are satisfied with the speech.

Remember the speech is coming from the speaker, not from you. It’s important to capture their essence, thoughts and personality. If you focus exclusively on presenting the speaker’s ideas, you shouldn’t have to worry about plagiarism.