Are you trying to pitch an idea or sell value? Then STOP using these words!

There is a trend in verbal communication. We are weakening our messages by adding words that dilute or mitigate. Could it be a result of millennials’ and Gen Zers’ quest to appear unmoved, stolid, or apathetic? Or is it a simple lack of confidence and belief in what one is declaring? Can’t say why, but the use of words that amplify doubt and diminish credibility is common in oral communication right now.

Here is why I am keenly aware of this trend. One afternoon early in my career, I drove away from a sales presentation with my manager riding shotgun. I thought I did a solid job and had a great chance of winning this account and putting a dent in my competitor’s empire. My manager thought otherwise. He said, “If you are going to say something, say it like you mean it, or don’t say it at all.” I have never forgotten those words. That day I realized that I had timidly, cautiously, almost apologetically shared our value and unique assets. From that day on I coached myself to own my messages. I work to not over-explain, which waters-down the point. I don’t make exceptions to placate the listener. I don’t add reductive words that minimize trust and passion. First, I make sure I believe in the power of what I am selling or promoting, and then, I own it. No half-assing. No hesitating. No capitulating. I declare value and I own it.

We as business professionals have gravitated toward words that diminish our message as well as our credibility. If you don’t believe me, just watch recorded Zoom calls, interviews or virtual presentations and count how many times you hear the words below. Warning: Do Not Make This A Drinking Game.

  1. KINDA. Or SORTA. KINDA and its stepsister SORTA are the most common diluting words spoken today. Every day, I communicate with folks who have adopted this word as a habit. We aren’t even aware of it. I catch myself saying it too. “We kinda created a blueprint.” “We sorta rebranded ourselves.” “We kinda polled experts.” No, no, no. That’s not owning your magic! For good reason, we don’t even write these words. But listen carefully. You will notice how often we say them, unintentionally. And when we do, we are dramatically reducing the power of our message. So, stop saying kinda. Period.
  2. MAYBE. Or PERHAPS, or I THINK. We tend to say maybe when we are asked for an opinion or a finite commitment. MAYBE says to the listener that we are not sure or dedicated to our assertion. If I am asked if I know how to elevate oxytocin in the minds of the audience, I could reply with “Well maybe you could try to be more vulnerable” or I could reply with “Be vulnerable. Own your truth.” And then I give a specific example. See the difference?
  3. ABOUT. Or AROUND. This one is tricky. We tend to use generalities when the truth is either unknown or even worse, something we don’t want to reveal. Listeners sense this when we say things like “about flat” or “around 50 percent”. And to add even more erosion to your credibility, combine number two above and say things like, “Maybe about 25” or “I think around half.” Erasing these words from your vernacular will help you to own your message and your truth. If you don’t know, don’t guess. Just state that you don’t know, and you will find out. Then do that.
  4. MOSTLY. Or USUALLY. I think you see the trend by now. MOSTLY and USUALLY don’t mean anything. Rather than trying to glorify data with escalated approximations, do the work. Collect the data and share hard facts. If the empirical evidence is not what you hope it would be then share strategy, tactics and mileposts for improving the trajectory.
  5. AIM TO. Or TRY TO. We hear these in an attempt to hide our flaws. For example, I aim to get to bed by 10 pm every night. What does that tell you? Absolutely nothing. In situations where you are trying to build trust or sell a service, using phrases like “we aim to increase our margins every quarter” or “we try to lead with value” tells the listener that you have some half-baked marketing terminology that you can’t back-up with facts. Goals and missions are great. Just be prepared to prove the dedication with real-life stories.

These are just the top five I commonly hear in business presentations. To avoid diluting the power of you point, just remember that reductive words weaken our messages. Challenge yourself to eliminate these words from your vocabulary. Remind yourself how much you believe in your product, your service or your idea and own your words with that passion. Then, with this simple adjustment, your messages will graduate from mediocre to enthusiastic and credible.

Define your value. Go boldly and own it!


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