Chic Lingo

Recently, I had the pleasure of running a presentation workshop for a group of fantastic 15-18 year old women. While our impression of young people as having their heads bowed in prayer over a screen are not unfounded, my group were definitely ‘eyes-forward’ type of gals. Articulate, bright and aspirational, they joined in the activities with courage and humour.  One of the special challenges these girls have however, when making a formal presentation, is the elimination of the word “like.” – It’s like, really hard to not say it ‘cause like, it gives you a chance to like, pause and like gather your ideas. It’s similar to ‘um,’ but with a higher pitch and like, more noticeable.

It’s only when they had to listen to themselves critically, they realised how much they said it. It’s OK. I’m fine with people being natural and using their own style, however it does cause a barrier to communication when you’re trying to make a credible argument. While the word ‘like’ is not jargon per se, it operates in similar way to jargon, in that it alienates the audience. With all presentations, we need to ensure we don’t use jargon unless specifically speaking to a group that understands it and uses the same words.

For teenagers the overuse of, ‘like’ is natural to them, however if they’re going to be presenting to a prospective employer, they need to drop it, like now!

This leads to another challenge for presenters who want to be themselves while performing in a formal construct. Our normal, informal speaking style needs to be adjusted to the point where others can understand us, without appearing false. This takes practice, good preparation and the use of specific techniques like book-ended segues. It’s not just teenagers who struggle to find a balance between being natural and formal. We all have our conversational style where we’ll use words to give us a pause to help us transition from one point to the next, such as, ‘um,’ ‘what not,’ ‘for example,’ and ‘so.’  

To bring greater awareness to the overuse of these ‘thinking words’, I suggested to the girls that they create short, impromptu speeches and record them into their phones. When you listen back, you can hear how you sound from an external perspective and edit accordingly. You can then record a second version, forcing yourself to replace words like, ‘um’ with silence. It’s ok to have silent pauses in your speech pattern. If you can just halve the number of thinking words you use, then it will increase the flow of your presentation and make it easier for the listener to understand. It also helps demonstrate confidence in your argument and ultimately leads to a more impactful speech.

Pepita Bulloch
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