Ditch these 12 words and phrases that make you sound boring, says speech expert—and what to say instead

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Some advice from a speech trainer: Don't be boring.

The originality of your speech has everything to do with your credibility and whether or not people want to listen to you. If you use language riddled with bromides and jargon, people have no way to know how smart, credible and alert you are — because you don't sound like it!

Here are 12 mind-numbing words and phrases to remove from your vocabulary:

1. "At this point in time"

Wordy, inefficient and makes you sound like you're trying too hard to seem smart and intellectual.

What to say instead:

  • "Right now"
  • "At present"
  • "Now"

2. "But, yeah..."


You know?




Filler words — typically used as crutches or conversation re-starters — are distracting, devoid of meaning and diminish credibility. Even worse, they can indicate that you're nervous, mentally absent or at a loss for what comes next.

What to say instead:

  • "What I meant was..."
  • "I just remembered something relevant to this..."
  • "What you said made me think of..."

Another alternative: Forget the preface, and just start talking.

3. "Can I pick your brain?"

Cliché, but also insincere because it masks a request for help behind something less straightforward. When you say these five words, your listener hears: "I'm about to waste your time."

What to say instead:

  • "Can you help me with something?"
  • "You always have good ideas. Can I ask you for advice?"
  • "You know more about this than I do.  Do you have time to...?"

4. "Disorientated" / "Disoriented"

Both adjectives are standard in British English, but they just sound awkward in American English. Furthermore, they're frequently used in lieu of shorter, more accurate alternatives.

What to say instead:

  • "Lost"
  • "Confused"
  • "Puzzled"

5. "You do you."

Unnecessary and passive aggressive. All of us are already being and "doing" ourselves. Do we really need prompting?

Instead, say nothing. Breathe. Smile. Life is even more beautiful sometimes if we remain silent.

6. "Best practices"

This term is so vastly overused that it's like Novocain for your listener's brain. Two instances where you should avoid it at all costs: Email subject lines and company training seminars.

What to say instead:

  • "Best policy"
  • "Accepted / proven / recommended methods"
  • "Best way of doing stuff"

7. "Deep dive" / "Drill down"

If you work for a marine recovery service or an oil services firm, by all means, keep using these terms. The rest of us need to give them a break. They're tired and embarrassingly overused.

What to say instead:

  • "Focus on"
  • "Really think about"
  • "Study"

8. "Move the needle"

Recent years have seen an explosion in "needle-moving." Where, exactly, is the needle? I'll tell you: It's stuck in a cork board in the most boring office building in Purgatory. This term was once a novel expression that stimulated listeners' attention. That time has passed.

What to say instead:

  • "Have an effect"
  • "Generate a reaction"
  • "Achieve results"

9. "Disrupt"

There's nothing wrong with this word, except that it's instantly tedious. In the same way it's bizarre to say hi to someone several times in a row, it's weird to use language that's nearly meaningless as if it's fresh and new.

What to say instead:

  • "Stand out"
  • "Kill the competition"
  • "Kick ass"

10. "Utilize"

"We're going to utilize the horizontal surface of our desks now for the purpose of taking notes." 

Awkward, right?

Overly decorated word choices are a classic "tell," advising listeners that you're desperate to seem smart. Oops. Because smart people don't do that.

What to say instead:

  • "Make use of"
  • "Harness"
  • "Use"

11. "Literally"

Nearly always incorrectly used, "literally" means "exactly," or "actually." If you're literally dying of hunger, for example, it's time to go to the hospital, not to Chipotle.

Instead, say nothing. There's literally no way to use this word in a way that creates value and deeper understanding.

12. "At the end of the day"

At the end of our list comes the most overused, lazily pompous of modern catchphrases. Heir to earlier clichés (e.g., "when push comes to shove," "when all is said and done"), this term means little more than, "Hey, pay more attention to the next thing I'm about to say."  

What to say instead:

  • "Ultimately"
  • "In the grand scheme of things"
  • "In the end"

John Bowe is a speech trainer, award-winning journalist, and author of "I Have Something to Say: Mastering the Art of Public Speaking in an Age of Disconnection." He has contributed to The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine, GQ, McSweeney's, This American Life, and many others. Follow him on LinkedIn.

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