This one is short and sweet with some quick tips. But first, a few words to set the stage. I’m authoring a book which is a compilation of interviews with chief marketing officers (CMOs). These are high level executives, many of them from big companies. They have all presented themselves very well as we’ve done interviews over the phone, but as I read the transcripts there are things that stand out in written form, and I’m learning a lot about the words we use that make us sound unsure and lacking in confidence. Here are some key phrases to eliminate from your vocabulary. Doing so will help you present yourself as the confident person you are.
“I think…” – I know, you want to be humble. You don’t want to come across as a know it all. But just try dropping “I think…” from your sentences and saying what comes after, and listen to how much better it sounds. If you’re really not sure about something, then say that. “I could be wrong on this, but here’s how things look to me…” or “I’m not completely sure about this, but…” are communicating helpful information. “I think…” doesn’t.
“I feel…” – There’s a time to say “I feel…” The time to say it is when you feel sad, mad, frustrated, confused, etc. The time to not say “I feel…” is when you’re using it to say “I think…” and we already know why we shouldn’t say that.
“Like I said earlier…” – It’s hard to avoid saying this, especially when it’s true that you did say something earlier and now you’re repeating yourself. If you can avoid repeating yourself, that’s best. But if that’s impossible, drop “Like I said earlier…” and try to use the word “again” somewhere. Not at the beginning of a sentence, because then you sound annoyed, as though people aren’t listening to you, but after the start of a sentence. For example, instead of “Like I said earlier, it’s the halo effect,” or “Again, it’s the halo effect,” say “It’s the halo effect again.”
“Actually…” – Not only can it sound hesitant, it can be seen as condescending or dismissive of another’s opinion.
“Literally…” – I’m guilty of using this too much, and now my kids use it all the time, which is how I noticed my own usage of it. The issue isn’t so much that the word signifies hesitation in and of itself, but it’s so overused that it has become meaningless. When we use lots of meaningless words, it sounds as though we’re trying to protect or hide our true thoughts, which makes us sound as though we lack confidence. Claire Fallon talks about this and other overused words over at HuffPost.
“So…” – If you’re Mark Zuckerberg, you can start your sentences with “so.” Otherwise, I recommend dropping it, at least most of the time.
“Well…” – Starting a sentence with “Well, there was this time…” is a clear indication that you’re still thinking, still hesitant. Remove it, and the sentence immediately sounds more decisive.
“It’s interesting because…” – Don’t tell us it’s interesting, just tell us what it is. If it’s interesting, we’ll be interested.
“Really…” – Whatever it is that is really, really good, or bad, or ugly, you can just tell us. Adding “really” to the beginning doesn’t make it really that much more of whatever it is. But it can make you sound like you’re really trying too hard to really emphasize something and it really becomes distracting when people use “really” a really, really lot. So it’s cool, you can drop it. Really.
“Very…” – See “Really…”
“You know…” – You know, I’m not sure why you shouldn’t say this. But it doesn’t need to be there, and makes you sound less sure of yourself. Do you know why? You tell me. Because I don’t know, but perhaps you know, you know?
“Um…” – And of course, “Uh…” and a host of other sounds and grunts. Embrace pauses and silence. They focus attention on you.
What would you add to this list?
Note: I don’t take these as hard and fast rules, but guidelines. For every rule above, there are legitimate reasons for breaking them in certain situations.Liked it? Share it!
I like this very very much. Really. Uh, I think I may have broken some rules here. I think I better read the article again.
Agreed, just wasted 10 minutes of my life, I think..um.
Just found you and love your writing. I was talking to one of our content writers here today about how you only write your articles once and never re-read / edit. Is this really true? I find it so hard to believe given the quality of your writing!
Yes, see https://joshsteimle.com/marketing/why-i-dont-proofread-or-edit-my-writing.html, although I’m not sure it’s something to brag about. More of a disclaimer in case you find simple typos in my writing 🙂
Vocal fry can be added to the list.
Unbearable when people speak with vocal fry in meetings
Dear mr. Steimle. Thanks for your tips. I could argue with the “it is interesting because” one. Because is an insanely juice-packed power word. People are driven to obey what you say after “because”. It gives them a motive, a reason even. I wrote about a corredponding research some time ago and I’d love to share it with you, because you may find it interesting))
You make an interesting point @AlexanderSeryj:disqus
Robert Cialdini has a fascinating section in his book “Influence” that deals specifically with the use of the word “because.”
“Because” is a powerful motivator as you, Alex, and Cialdini point out, but Cialdini delves into the use of the word when used as part of an ask.
I can see Josh’s point by including it in his list. In Josh’s use case, there is no ask. Unless I’m wrong Josh, I think you’re saying in your use case, it’s largely filler copy and not a motivating or reasoning statement.
Between you two, I now have to go back and re-read that section in Influence 😉
I can go both ways on this one. I agree with Cialdini on the power of the word “because” in the right context. But yes, I hear people say “It’s interesting because…” too much, and that’s what I’m reacting too. Even a good thing, taken to excess, can become a bad thing, like cake and ice cream 🙂
“Hopefully” should also be cast out. “I hope” is stronger, if you have any hope at all.
Good one! I try to leave hope out of it most of the time. “I hope this works out,” doesn’t sound very hopeful, especially if I’m pitching a business idea to investors, or a marketing campaign to a client. Where I do find the word “hope” useful is when I’m expressing doubt, or communicating to others that I’m not sure about an outcome but I’m still sincerely wishing for the best, as in “I hope this whole Trump thing works out…” 🙂