3 Phrases You Should Never Say While Public Speaking

As a speaker, I have the unique privilege of attending many conferences. When hired to speak, whenever possible and appropriate, I stay for the conference to learn more about my clients and gain value from other speakers. 

Watching others shine in the art and science of speaking is inspiring and motivating; I learn much about what works and doesn’t work by observing my professional colleagues. 

However, not all conference speakers are trained communicators. As a result, I also see many up-and-coming speakers work on their craft in real-time. While we all have elements of speaking that we get to work on, I noticed a pattern in how speakers discredit themselves and devalue themselves. 

They are simple phrases that significantly impact a speaker’s ethos. But unfortunately, most of these are under the guise of false humility. Not wanting to appear overly confident or arrogant, speakers will make throwaway comments that throw away the trust an audience has in them. 

The following are the top three phrases that I have heard speakers use that undercut their credibility.

“You Guys”

First, this is non-inclusive language and inappropriate to say unless speaking to an all-male audience. Even then, however, the phrase is too casual and too conversational. While you want to appear approachable and authentic, you don’t want your language to reflect laziness in your approach, especially when addressing the audience directly. 

Instead of saying “You Guys,” I will refer to the audience in two ways:

  1. WE/US – Using this personal pronoun includes you in the audience and signals to them that you are part of the experience. 

Old Way:   Today, I will talk to you guys about this data. 

New Way: Today, I will guide us through this data. 

  1. TEAM – Using this phrase reiterates that your audience is in this together. Even if the audience is people who don’t know each other, they still learn together as a team. 

Old Way:   Today, I will talk to you guys about this data. 

New Way: Today, I will guide your team through this data.

Any Self-Deprecating Comment

I live by the tenant that I take what I do very seriously, but I don’t take myself very seriously. So sometimes, a little jab at yourself is effective in releasing the self-judgment we tend to put on ourselves and also connects the audience to your humanity. 

However, I have seen self-deprecating humor or comments become downright nasty. Of course, no one wants to hear anyone bad-mouthing anyone, but somehow we accept it if we are bad-mouthing ourselves. 

Remember that being a speaker is being a leader, and being a leader means projecting a certain confidence level as you speak. When we make self-deprecating comments, we allow the audience to distrust us and undercut our credibility as we speak. 

“I’m Sorry.”

If you make a mistake like this one that negatively impacts your audience, then yes, you should apologize. However, I see speakers apologize for simply being there to speak. It sounds a lot like:

“I’m sorry I am not as charismatic as the previous speaker.”

“I’m sorry you must sit through my data and slides.”

“I am sorry if I am nervous.”

If you genuinely want to be more charismatic, engaging, and confident, then you have full capabilities to do so and be so. That comes in the preparation and training to be a speaker. What you are admitting when you are apologizing is that you are not as prepared and unwilling to show up authentically for your audience. 

That doesn’t build trust or credibility. It simply gives your audience permission not to listen and provides verbiage as to why you are not an effective speaker. 

These are simple adjustments but significant ones. We certainly all have flaws and shortcomings, and there is a time and place for us to address those. But the time and place are not from the stage. 

The time on stage is for leaders to show up with confidence, power, and joy – leading us to our next level. And we can’t follow a speaker to the next level if that speaker if they have not leveled themselves up first and if they don’t reflect the confidence needed to call others to action. 


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