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Insights on Communication Skills and Relationship Building

Professional Presentation: Dangerous Words that Derail Presentations

Posted by Bridget Beirne on January 10, 2014

We all slip occasionally. Despite all of our mad professional presentation skills training, it can happen. I don't mean the "falling-on-the-ice-on-the-way-to-the-airport" kind of slip. I mean the "oops-I-missed-the-meeting-messed-up-the-project-ruined-my-PowerPoint" kind of slip.  Hey, we're all only human after all. But when we do slip, it's all in the recovery, right?



When we're already nervous, feeling that public speaking anxiety creep in, and something goes wrong, we may forget that we have the ability to recover. In a knee-jerk reaction, we may reach for one of these dangerous words that kill our credibility and confidence. Here are some of those deadly utterances that can keep you from a graceful recovery:

1. "Whatever": I love the word "whatever" in all it's various forms. I love to use it in my personal life. Of course, you might choose to use the word "whatever" in presentations from time to time. However, when something goes wrong while you're presenting, try to avoid uttering "oh, whatever". It tells your audience that instead of embracing a mistake, you either don't care or you can't acknowledge when something goes wrong. Whatevs.

Professional-presentation-152. "Ummmm": Those sneaky verbal viruses are killer. Not sure what to say in the moment? Lose your place in your content? Just take a pause. You might not even be conscious of those "umms", but trust that your audience is.

3. "##*@ **#@!!!??": When the pressure is on and something goes terribly awry, sometimes those 4 letter words (or more, depending on the word...) can find their way out. Accidentally "going blue" (a term for when a comic's content takes on an *ahem* more adult tone) is a quick way to undermine your professional presence. Take a tip from Jennifer Lawrence- after she tumbled on her way to receive her Oscar, (a high pressure moment if there ever was one!) she used a bit of humor right at the top of her speech to get through. She certainly could have muttered some expletives, instead she said to the audience, "You guys are just standing up because you feel bad that I fell." In an instant, all was forgiven.

4. "Forget it": You're slides show up out of order, or you jump ahead in your content, and suddenly you've revealed some information you were saving for later. While "forget it!" can be a good way to laugh off a mistake, you can definitely soldier on without making a huge deal of such an error. Acknowledge it ("We're not quite there yet. One moment."), and once you find your place, bridge back into that content ("Let's pick up from here"). It's like trying to tell someone not to think about a pink elephant- once you say those words, it's all they can think about! Telling your audience to forget something will almost certainly ensure that they remember it.

5. "Duh!": Again, we're not talking about using "duh!" as a punchline, or part of a story in your presentation. We're talking about letting out a confidence-undermining "duh!" when the unexpected happens. Sure, the word is a bit juvenile, but the bigger problem is that it becomes an awkward apology of sorts. What's funny is that "whoops!"- a slightly different, albeit colloquial, word-does what "Duh" can't. It allows you to acknowledge an error and accept responsibility for it, without seeming to question your own intelligence. 

It's easy to slip and utter a dangerous word when something goes wrong. And chances are, at some point or another, we all might do it. But engaging in the self-awareness activity of acknowledging what words you reach for in a crisis- and how to replace them with more positive alternatives- will ensure that even your biggest misstep is handled with aplomb.

Need a handy Dangerous Words Infographic? Of course, we all do! Find one here.



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Topics: Building Relationships, Public Speaking, Communication, Presentations, Public Speaking Training, Public Speaking Seminar, Etiquette, Emotional Intelligence