“If you don’t mind uhm, I just wanted to share some uhm thoughts on our upcoming project and uhm at the same time basically check if we agree on these really important objectives and uhm I’ll try to keep it really short, I hope that’s ok with you…”
How do you as a listener react to a speaker opening like the above? Does s/he sound convincing? Why not? Because it is full of weak language.
Weak language is any word (or sound) that doesn’t add value to your message. But not only does weak language not add value – it dilutes and undermines your message.
To speak with more authority, assertiveness, and clarity, here are some common weak language traps to avoid:
Uhm, basically, yeah, literally, kind of, like..
Filler words pop out or mouth when we don’t know what to say next. We also use them to protect us from the discomfort of silence.
Think before you speak. Pause (your body language needs to show that you are not done yet to stop the audience from interrupting you). Ask a friend or a colleague to be your “filler word police”.
In my opinion..
The way I see it..
I may be wrong .. but..
I would like to..
To hedge in language is to hide behind words and refuse to commit oneself. Hedges share two defects: they sound as you doubt your own words and they lengthen your sentences unnecessarily.
Trim your hedges down to a minimum. Ask yourself: does the hedge add any information? If not, leave it out. If there is real uncertainty, prefer expressions not using “I”. E.g. “It appears that..”
And, and, and..
Stringing together several sentences by and or but makes it hard for the listeners to get your message. If you often get out of breath when speaking, this might be one of the causes.
Speak in short sentences, emphasizing the key words and ending with a falling inflection. You will have time to breathe and think about your next sentence. The audience will have time to digest what you just said.
Rather, very, quite, usually, generally, more, less, least, so, just, enough, indeed, still, almost, most, fairly, really, pretty much, even, a bit, a little, a great deal.
Often, qualifiers provide unnecessary padding to your message. We qualify too much because we are seeking attention, because we lack precise words to express ourselves, or because we think it sounds better.
Get rid of excess qualifiers: “She came across it
pretty much by accident”
Replace generic qualifiers with specific ones: “This sum is a great deal bigger than I expected” becomes “This sum is 50% bigger than I expected.”
A tag is a short question added to the end of a statement.
This is the best proposal, isn’t it?
…, don’t you think?
…, you see what I’m saying?
While the sentence preceding the tag is a clear statement of fact, the tag turns it into a question or a doubt.
There are also non-verbal versions of tags: A shoulder shrug, a nervous laughter, or a rising tone at the end of a sentence. Like verbal tags, they indicate doubt, submission or a will to please others.
Simply remove the tag, ending your sentence on a falling inflection and with a confident smile.
Coming back to the introduction example, this is what it sounds like without the weak language:
If you don’t mind uhm, I just wanted toI will share some uhm thoughts on our upcoming project and uhm at the same time basicallycheck if we agree on these really importantthe key objectives. and uhmI’ll try tokeep it reallyshort. , I hope that’s ok with you...”
The message has now gained in clarity and assertiveness – using only half as many words!
As summer is here, now is the perfect time to start weeding your language, trimming your hedges, and nurturing your credibility.
Have a wonderful summer!