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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When Technology Fails You

You’ve either see it happen or experienced it personally. Either way, it’s painful. You’re prepped and ready for your presentation and something goes wrong with the technology.

Your mic fails. Or the video equipment won’t load the carefully-selected images that illustrate important points you want to make. The clicker doesn’t work and you can’t advance your slide. Or maybe your computer crashes taking your slide deck and speech outline with it.


What now? Time has slowed to crawl and you’re sweating. How will you recover? What should you say now? I anyone coming to your aid?

Let’s take a look at how to move forward in this situation. It can be challenging, but try to stay calm. The most important thing to remember is your audience: they are on your side. They are silently cheering you on and want to see you recover. Once you get the ball going again and put the focus back on you, most audiences will forget that a glitch ever happened.

You can start with a simple apology for the interruption. But only apologize once. Multiple apologies won’t make you or your audience feel any better and they just draw more attention to your plight than your recovery.

Laugh at the situation, not at yourself. Everyone has been in an embarrassing situation before and your audience members will be able to relate to your predicament. It’s okay to make a joke and encourage them to laugh with you.

If there are technical assistants coming to your aid, give them time to do their job. You can use this time to chat with the audience or pull your thoughts together. If not, take a minute or two to see if you can remedy the situation. If not, just go ahead with your presentation as if the technology wasn’t there. Remember that audience came to see and hear you.

Have a backup plan. Technology is great, but low-tech will do the job just as well. If you have a white board or flip chart on stage, you can use that to diagram your ideas when a visual will help drive your point home.

Finally, put it behind you, literally! Go ahead and step out in front of the tech table and get started! Share your ideas, make your pitch, show your enthusiasm. Your speech should be able to stand on its own without the bells and whistles, anyway.

Have you had technology fail you before? What did you do to recover? What mistake did you make that you learned from? Would you be willing to share your successes and challenges with me? I would love to hear what happened.

Send me an email or leave a comment and let me know how it went and what you might do differently next time.

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