“Words, of course, are the most powerful drug used by humanity.”— Rudyard Kipling
“As speakers and presenters in the business world, we use words every day to close deals, gain funding, earn trust, win approval, and further our cause,” says Darlene Price, president of Well Said, Inc. and author of “Well Said! Presentations and Conversations That Get Results.”
Regardless of the industry or setting, effective communicators use language that captivates, motivates, and persuades others. Their choice of words is one of the crucial ways they inspire an audience to believe, buy in, and take action.
“As a successful speaker, there are certain words and phrases you can always count on to help you connect well with your audience,” she says. For instance, saying “thank you” shows appreciation for your audience’s time and attention. Starting with, “The purpose of this presentation is to…” declares the goal of your talk. And using phrases like “imagine if…” helps your audience visualise your message or solution. “These words and phrases can capture an audience’s attention and hold it,” she says.
Conversely, the wrong words can damage your credibility and cause doubt. Here are five phrases that successful public speakers never say:
1. “I’m sorry.” Well-meaning speakers often discredit themselves by thoughtlessly saying the words “I’m sorry.”
“For example, an audience member requests, ‘Could you please go back to the previous slide,’ or, ‘Could you please speak louder,’ and the presenter replies, ‘Oh, I’m sorry,'” Price explains. “Why apologise? Instead, give a positive proactive reply, such as, ‘Of course, I’d be happy to.'”
Presenters also tend to apologise when they think they have made an error, which the audience most likely did not notice. “For example, the speaker says, ‘I’m sorry — earlier I forgot to say…’ Instead, just make the point. Don’t call attention to a mishap,” she says. Reserve an apology for a real failure or injury that has caused someone harm. Otherwise, it undermines your authority and expertise.
2. “I’m not as prepared as I would like to be.” This phrase damages the speaker’s reputation in several ways. It tells the audience that the speaker makes excuses, did not consider this audience or occasion a top priority, and is a novice to announce such a discrediting fact. “As a speaker, of course you know your primary responsibility is to prepare and rehearse enough to deliver a stellar presentation — one that delivers value for the audience and reflects positively on you,” Price says. When that’s not possible, don’t announce it. Do the best you can and step up the prep next time.
3. “I’m tired.” Regardless of why you’re bushed, don’t broadcast it, Price says. “You’re the star, and the show must go on.” Your audience wants and expects value. Don’t disappoint them by announcing they’re not getting your best. “Whether the cause of your fatigue is jet lag, a bad cold, sleep loss, or a hangover, press through and give it your all.”
4. “I already covered that. Weren’t you listening?” When an audience member asks a question about a point that you’ve previously covered, answer it politely (even if they weren’t paying attention), Price suggests. “Give them the benefit of the doubt, and avoid becoming critical or defensive.” Never scold, shame, blame, or embarrass an audience member.
5. “I’m nervous.” Don’t confess your anxiety as a negative; employ it as a positive, she says. “Every good presenter gets a bout of butterflies before speaking. It’s a sure sign you care — that something important is at stake. Plus, adrenalin is that magic energy that fuels your body for a great performance. Therefore, the goal is to manage the nervousness, not eliminate it.”
Use the energy to stand tall, smile sincerely, maintain good eye contact, gesture naturally, and enthusiastically deliver a message that benefits your audience. When you do, the nervousness you feel on the inside is not visible on the outside. And, as a result, the audience believes and perceives you are a confident credible speaker.
Leaders in every company are listening and looking for skilled communicators to place in the pipeline for promotion. That means every time you address an audience of any size, it’s an opportunity for you to influence your career, Price explains. “It starts with that ‘powerful drug’ called words. Be sure to choose them and use them in a way that cures complacency, inspires hope, and motivates action,” she concludes.