Jenny was a great public speaker, except for one thing. She apologized too much. She asked her audience to forgive her for every cough, pause that she deemed too long, or phrase that didn’t come out the way she planned. We all know that what you say in a presentation matters. But great speakers are also intentional about what not to say because they know these simple, unplanned phrases can undermine both their content and authority.
“Let me move through this quickly . . .”
“Before I start . . .”
“Now I’m going to . . .”
“Forgive me for . . .”
“Hang with me . . .”
More than likely, these are phrases you’ve heard in a presentation. In fact, you may have used them yourself, and you probably haven’t given them much thought. But you should. When we use phrases like the ones mentioned about, we may unintentionally be minimizing our material. Let’s break these phrases down further and see why they should be avoided.
“Let me move through this quickly . . .” This phrase seems to imply that what you are about to address doesn’t matter much. If it’s not information worthy of the audience’s time and attention, why include it in the presentation?
“Before I start . . .” There’s essentially no such thing as “before I start.” Either you are starting or you aren’t. Your opening will always be the first words that leave your mouth, whether it’s what you’ve prepared and planned as your official introduction or not. Research consistently proves that it’s the very first impression that matters. So reserve those first words for something that you’ve carefully planned.
“Now I’m going to . . .” This one can sneak past even the most careful presenters, but it’s important that we frame our transitional phrases in terms that include the audience. If the presenter were to use the more inclusive phrase, “now let’s examine,” the audience would feel more like participants in the journey rather than bystanders with no importance.
“Forgive me for . . .” Apologies rarely belong presentations. If you’ve accidentally said something offensive, by all means, apologize. However, an apology should never be an excuse for poor planning or preparation. An apology to the audience usually does one of two things. First, it puts a burden on the audience. For example, if the speaker complains about being sick but needing to present anyway, the audience feels sorry for the speaker. Or second, it diminishes the speaker’s credibility in the eyes of the audience. For instance, if a speaker is unfamiliar with the technology in the room and apologizes, the audience will feel like the speaker is unprepared. Studies show that apologies which are insincere or overused or which focus on the speaker rather than on the good of the audience can end up doing more harm than good.
“Hang with me . . .” A speaker will usually use this phrase before embarking on information that is either difficult to understand, poorly planned, or both. This phrase essentially tells the audience to brace themselves for something ahead that doesn’t sound positive. It’s better to have content that is carefully planned and can be clearly communicated instead of material that must be trudged through in an unbearable manner.
The words you use in your presentations matter. The next time you are tempted to use one of these phrases or another like them, think carefully about what is being communicated by these seemingly innocent phrases. You may just be undermining your presentation without realizing it.
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