Commonly Misused Words and Phrases – Part 1

We all want to feel confident when speaking. Whether it’s a one-on-one conversation, a presentation to a small group, or a speech to a large audience, knowing that we are communicating as effectively as possible is important.

It not only ensures we are getting our message across, but it is a part of being confident in how we present ourselves to the world, just as much as the clothes we choose to wear.

An important part of creating a high level of confidence is found in our word choices. There are a great many words and phrases in the English language that are easily mispronounced and/or confused with similar-sounding words or with words that have a similar meaning.

Getting these right when we talk is like the polish we use to shine our shoes. It’s that extra “something” that makes people take note of you. In this two-art series, we’ll take a look at a dozen of the most commonly misused words and phrases.

  1. 1. Get your goat/goad. The goat in this phrase is a metaphor for a peaceful state of mind. When someone irritates you, we say they get your goat. The word goat is often mispronounced as goad.
  2. 2. For all intents and purposes/intensive purposes. The correct phrase is “intents and purposes.” It is sometimes misheard and repeated as “intensive purposes.”
  3. 3. Few/less. Use the word few when the item can be counted, e.g. He has 25 jelly beans. Use less when the exact amount is not known or can’t be easily measured, e.g. She has less milk than her sister.
  4. 4. Who/whom. If you can replace the word with ‘he’ or ‘she,’ who is the correct choice. If you can replace it with ‘him’ or ‘her,’ use whom. To make it a little easier, associate the “m” in “him” with the “m” in “whom.” The more you do it, the easier it will become.
  5. 5. Hang/hung/hanged. Hang and hung refer to placement or position of something as in “Will you hang the picture on the wall” and “She hung the picture on the wall” or The picture hung on the wall.” They are present and past tense, respectively. Hanged, however, refers specifically to executing someone by hanging, i.e. “An innocent man was hanged that day.”
  6. 6. Regardless/irregardless. Irregardless is considered a non-standard use of the word regardless. Those in the know eschew it in favor of the simple and correct “regardless.” Always use the latter and you’ll always be correct, regardless of what others say about “irregardless.”

There you have it! Six of the top dozen words and phrases that are commonly misused. I’ll be covering the other half dozen in Part 2.

Meanwhile, let me know what gets your goat when other people speak.

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PowerPoint Failures During A Speech

You’re doing great! It’s about 2 minutes into your speech and you’ve never felt more confident.

You started with a strong opening and, just as practiced, you stepped away from the podium to take advantage of the large stage. You have been looking up behind you to draw the audience’s attention to your PowerPoint slide with it’s bright colors and clear bullet list of points you are making.

You turn to make eye contact with your audience and – what? — they are all looking down at their phones or whispering to each other.

Your confidence goes out the open window and you lose your place. You struggle to regain the audience’s attention and barley make it through your presentation, speeding through the words so you can get off the stage.

What happened?

You worked really hard to plan your speech and make sure your audience could keep up with you through your slides.

You know that visuals are an important tool to engage your audience. You’ve read up on public speaking tips and thought you had all the bases covered.

Let’s take a look at why PowerPoint presentations sometimes fail and what you can do to prevent it from happening to you.

  • – What is the purpose of a slide in a speech? It shouldn’t serve as a teleprompter, causing you to turn your back on the audience for extended periods of time. If you’re going to use slides, make sure they are there to simply emphasize or illustrate a point you’re making. A single bold image will have much more impact than a paragraph of text.
  • – How much is too much? There should never be more than six words on a slide and the font size should be larger than 30 pt so your audience can see it easily. Try not to use more than one slide for every major point you are making.
  • – Color, if you need to use it, should be simple and there for a reason. It should highlight or emphasize an element of the slide. Too many colors are a distraction.
  • – Image quality counts. Choose your images carefully. The stock graphics that come with PowerPoint are tired and outdated. Make sure the image you choose is sharp and clearly relates to the point you are making.

Finally, think about when you will display the image. If you have selected a good one, put it up just as you transition to a new point in your speech. Use it to grab your listeners’ attention and make them curious about what you’re planning to tell them.

Then make your point and tie the image to your idea. Helping them associate you and your idea with an image makes it easier for them to remember you later.

PowerPoint slides and visuals in general are a great way to keep your audience focused as you move through your speech. Just don’t let them take your place as the center of attention.

Try taking a recent speech you gave or one that is coming up and review these tips to improve your results. Let me know what you think.

I would love to hear about your success and challenges in using PowerPoint in your presentation!

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Slides

Have you ever gone to a class or a presentation prepared to just listen or perhaps jot down a thought or two, only to be been bombarded with slide after slide of text, making you feel as if you had to get it all down? You may have left feeling as if you had drowned in a sea of information with nothing to think about after you left and a few pages of scrawled notes.

Slides are meant to punctuate your presentation, not outline it or display it nearly word for word. Remember: slides and visuals in aren’t for you. They are for you audience.

Slides with several bulleted points are too busy for the audience and takes their attention off of you. But when used correctly, slides can underscore the most important aspect of each section of your speech in your listeners’ mind.

What’s In?

Consider your audience. No more than six words on a slide, according to speaker and entrepreneur Seth Godin. And nothing on the lower quarter to third of the bottom of the slide.

Remember, depending on the setup of the room, many of your audience members may be seeing your visuals over the heads of several rows of other people. What about the design element? Find a font and color combination you like and stick with it throughout your presentation.

A powerful photograph paired with a few words can help your message resonate.

What’s out?

An entire document. Too many words will be lost on your audience and most of them won’t even be able to see it from their seats. Long lists or entire sections of your speech don’t belong.

Never, ever turn your back on your audience to read from the slide. It’s just as important as ever to make eye contact as you talk.

A good rule of thumb is no more than 10 slides for a thirty minute presentation. Even fewer is better.

Saving the Best for Last

Create your slides after your presentation is written. This will allow you to pull out a few key points you want to emphasize rather than focusing on the content of your speech at the same time you are creating slides.

Think of it as using a highlighter to mark the most important parts of an article and take a look at Nancy Duarte’s tips for creating great slides.

What Next?

Take advantage of a speech you recently gave where you wanted to use slides but weren’t sure how to, or did use slides but weren’t entirely happy with the outcome. Use some of the tips we discussed as well as this great beginner’s guide to master slide basics and see what you can come with.

You can also sit down with your speech and go through it highlight the points you want to illustrate. Transfer each point to one side of a small card or Post-It note and, on the other side, write down no more than three words that describe what you want to illustrate. You can use those words to look for images later.

Send me an example of one your slides that you’re most proud of. I would love to know how it went in the comment section below!

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Making Eye Contact with Your Audience

There are several great reasons to improve your eye contact skills when speaking to a group.

  • – It’s an effective way to connect with them on an individual basis.
  • – It increases the support and buy-in you have from the audience as a whole.
  • – When you are looking at one person directly, the people in their immediate vicinity feel you have also acknowledged them.
  • – It can calm your nerves by helping you focus on one person rather than the entire crowd.
  • – It will boost your confidence when people acknowledge you in return with a slight nod or a look in their eye that tell you they see you.

So now you know why improving your eye contact skill is worth investing some time in. What can you do to improve?

How to Practice

If you rarely make eye contact during your presentations and the thought of it makes you a little uncomfortable, remember that you aren’t alone. Eye contact is powerful and it can be a little intimidating because you are inviting someone to notice you. Here are some ways to practice.

Use the everyday opportunities you have

Spend a few more seconds at the cash register when you shop, looking your cashier in the eye as you chat and go through the transaction. Many people stand at a checkout counter for an entire transaction without ever looking the cashier in the eye. Having a meal out with clients or colleagues?

Look them in the eye during conversation when you have the floor, moving from one person to the next as you talk.

Speed Talk

This is a great exercise for two. Take turns picking a topic your partner is likely to know little or nothing about. Give them the topic and have them talk for a minimum of two minutes while making direct eye contact with you.

Have a Conversation

When you are speaking, treat each person in the audience as if you were speaking to them alone. How long should you hold one person’s gaze?

Sheri Jeavons of Power Presentations, Inc. says it should be for the length of a complete sentence, beginning to end.

Although you are talking to a group, it’s really a collective conversation. You can gain valuable feedback when you address the audience members one at a time. Most will nod slightly or look back at you in a way that indicates they know you see them and they understand you. But if someone is not looking at you or appears bored or confused, move on to the next person.

If you see several people like this, you can make some changes in real time to recapture those whose attention has slipped. Add some vocal variety as you talk by raising or lowering your voice or pitch and using descriptive words that will resonate with the audience.

Over the next few days, make a point to try out some of these exercises.

If you are in a group like Toastmasters, use your next meeting to work on making eye contact with your audience and see how it improves your speaking skills. Then send me an email to let me know how it went!

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Get Emotional

What do you think of when you hear the word emotional?

  • Crying?
  • Laughing?
  • Yelling?
  • Arguing?

The idea of being emotional can connote being out of control. While that is sometimes true, it also refers to engagement and excitement. And that is something you want your listeners to feel.

As a speaker, you want your audience to be emotional, but there are many ways to show emotion without being out of control. Likewise, there are many ways to evoke it.

Creating passion in an audience means your presentation will have more impact and stay with the listeners long after they are gone. It increases the likelihood that they will buy into what you are telling them or make the choice to use your services over someone else’s.

Passion

What is important to you about your idea? Why should your audience care about it? What makes is better than other, similar products on the market?

Don’t leave your audience wondering about any of the questions. Answer them in your speech.

Show that you care about your topic by being so well prepared that your words come naturally rather than from a piece of paper on the podium. This allows your audience to learn what excites you. Enthusiasm is contagious!

Facial Expressions

Make eye contact with people in your audience, one person at a time, and smile when it feels natural. Most people react to a smile with a smile of their own which is a powerful brain trigger for endorphins.

Try scanning the crowd and stopping with your gaze on one person each time you change topics or make a transition.

Body Language

Your body language can stoke excitement in an audience. Don’t pace back and forth, but do move around, engaging different sections of the listeners, focusing more of your attention on one area of the group when you are closer to them before moving to another.

Use gestures to convey emotions and excitement about your project. Step forward when you want to emphasize an important point.

Visuals

Keep your visuals simple. Slides should be clean and bright, easily understood. Use no more than a half dozen words per slide. Look for compelling images that will have an emotional impact. There shouldn’t be so many words on your slide that you feel compelled to read from it.

Word Choice

Active verbs and descriptive adverbs will evoke more attention. Look for ways to use them in your speech.

Tell your audience that you’re excited to be here, not just happy. And then tell them why and what excites you.

Emotional Need

Consider why your audience is there. What do they hope to gain — especially emotionally — from you? Insight? Knowledge? What do you want them to leave knowing or believing? That your product is the one they should choose? Why? What makes it different?

In closing, let me tell you why emotional buy-in from your audience is so important: it means you can influence people when it comes to making decisions.

A friend of mine recently went looking for some flooring to install in her new home. She visited a big-box store and two independent dealers. The second independent dealer won her business. Members of his family worked for him. He had his products in his own home and his dog spent the day at his company. All of these spoke to him as a person and helped him make an emotional connection with my friend. Although he wasn’t making a speech, per se, he was giving a presentation. Without even knowing it, his own enthusiasm for his business and his product helped make the sale.

Before your next presentation, try thinking about how you can evoke emotion in your audience. Let me know what you did and how it worked for you!

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