Caroline Kennedy made headline news when she threw her hat into the ring for the New York State Senate seat left vacant by Hillary Clinton. Unfortunately for Ms. Kennedy, she also gained unintended notoriety for her overuse of the phrase, “You know” throughout her press interviews. Her reliance on the phrase to fill the space between her thoughts detracted from her main message and became the message itself.
The words we use matter. They matter because they are a reflection of our care, consideration and respect for the listener. Every time you speak, your listeners are forming an impression of you, for better or for worse. Therefore, it’s important to choose words that enhance, not detract, from your professional image.
Ms. Kennedy is not alone, of course. Too often we rely on verbal props when expressing our ideas, whether we’re giving a presentation or having a discussion around the conference table. I define verbal props here as either “fillers,” “clichés,” or “informal colloquial English.”
These are the words we use as connectors between thoughts instead of a pause or period. Most of us will say anything to fill what feels to us like dead air, even “um” or “uh.” Yet that empty space is prime real estate where you can gather your thoughts and provide room for your listeners to digest what you just said. Not only is it okay for you to pause and remain silent, your audience will thank you for it.
How do you know if an expression is a cliché? As the saying goes, if you’ve already read or heard it used, it is. “Majestic mountains” is one example. “Win-win” is another. In other words, these are phrases that are recycled unimaginatively throughout our conversations every day.
Informal, Colloquial English
It’s not uncommon to hear speakers say “wanna” instead of “want to,” or “gonna” instead of “going to,” both in informal social situations among friends and in the workplace. You may even feel it’s perfectly appropriate to do so as it indicates a person’s casualness and approachability. However, the reduced word form is generally the result of speaking quickly and just as often conveys the impression that the speaker is uneducated which is not the image a professional wants to make.
If you want to get your message across clearly, concisely and confidently, and if you want to come across as an intelligent, thoughtful person, replace lackluster, unimaginative expressions with professional English and precise words. Your listeners will appreciate your willingness to make the effort and your ability to speak intelligibly.