Everyday Words that are Diminishing Your Message, and You

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By: Debbie Fay

It’s officially an epidemic. Now joining ‘like,’ ‘you know,’ and ‘I mean,’ ‘kind of’ and ‘sort of’ and ‘just’ have become word viruses infecting our speech and devaluing our message. Every day, in offices, board rooms, and conference rooms, on radio, TV and digital media, you can hear men and women undercutting the impact of their ideas, knowledge, and arguments with these completely unhelpful words.

I can only guess at the impetus for their conscious (though inaccurate) insertion; possibly a desire to soften a stance, to be seen as less than staunch, to equivocate a little? If so, there are better words — and ways — to go about it. Unfortunately, these words and phrases have gone way beyond their usefulness, are now used subconsciously, and have become at best distractors and at worst underminers. Let me prove it to you.

For example, if I say, “I’m sort of an executive speech coach. I kind of help people sort of build and then like, kind of, deliver presentations that sort of, get heard and kind of, you know, get results.” (Sounds familiar, right?) How confident would you be hiring me or recommending me to someone who would? Exactly.

Now read it this way: “I’m an executive speech coach. I help people build and deliver presentations that get heard and get results.” No equivocating. No softening. No wishy-washy “ish.” Why beat around the bush? Why intentionally miss the bulls-eye? You are a financial advisor, you are a recruiter, you are a graphic artist, engineer, insurance broker. There’s no kind of, sort of, or like about it.

‘Just’ is equally bad, possibly worse. This one, little, seemingly harmless word gets inserted in sentences all the time, and 99.9% of its use weakens the statement in which it occurs.

Example: “I just want to thank…” No! You don’t ‘just’ want to thank – you want to thank. Is there something iffy about the thank you? I thought not. You. Want. To. Thank. A big heartfelt thank you – free of any and all diminishing.

We hear ‘just’ inserted before a thank you all the time, but there are plenty of other places the ‘just’ virus appears:

“I just want to say…” “I just want to end with…” “I just want you to think about…”

Compare those phrases to: “I want to say…” “I’d like to end with…” “I want you to think about…”

Which sounds stronger? More confident? Leaves little room for doubt? Which do you think does a better job at getting your message across most powerfully?

Before your head starts spinning, or exploding, let me be clear: the occasionally misplaced ‘sort of,’ ‘kind of,’ ‘just,’ (or ‘you know,’ 'I mean,’ or ‘like,’) will not harm your message. Almost all of us insert these words and phrases, or um or ah every once in a while. But if you find yourself peppering your sentences with ‘sort of’s and ‘kind of’s and ‘just’s, you’ve got a problem. Think of it as inserting “not really” or “just kidding” throughout your message, because that’s essentially what you’re doing.

Let’s put an end to this wishy-washy message making. Let’s take a big, deep breath and cleanse our speech of these diminishing words, shall we? We don’t want to cast doubt on our ideas, weaken our arguments, or question our own proposals. Instead, let’s be big bold and brave. Let’s use language that shines the brightest, clearest, strongest light on our message. Let’s be our own most fervent cheerleader. Let’s be heard.

This article previously appeared on ​LinkedIn.


Debbie Fay is the owner and founder of bespeak presentation solutions, llc, celebrating 10 years providing executive speech coaching, presentation development and corporate training to organizations worldwide. Her book, "Nail it. Create and deliver presentations that connect, compel, and convince." is available on Amazon and from other book retailers.

Ellevate Network is a global women’s network: the essential resource for professional women who create, inspire and lead. Together, we #InvestInWomen.

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