www.wellsaid.com December 2014

When you hear the word "clich�," what comes to mind?  The holiday season is filled with them: "Tis the season," "'Twas the night before...," "Under the mistletoe." Perhaps they bring to mind favorite carols, stories, or traditions.  

Business clich�s have a different effect. These trite overused phrases may sound catchy, but they often cause your audience to roll their eyes, stop listening, and miss the intended meaning of your message. I recently heard a vice president of sales speak at his company's national sales meeting. Here are a few excerpts from his talk:  

  • Regarding our new sales strategy, let me tee it up by saying this product is cutting edge technology; if we get our ducks in a row, we can knock it out of the park this year...
  • Let me open the kimono and admit we dropped the ball with the delayed release of 5.0; in fact, we lost our shirts, but I'm not throwing anyone under the bus--it is what it is...
  • We've got to bite the bullet and do more with less. It's a paradigm shift, so we need to think outside the box.
  • The first way to move the needle is to pick the low-hanging fruit...
  • In closing, I want you to hit the ground running and bring your A-game, because at the end of the day, we've got to take it to the next level. We've got to synergize our efforts.  

When I polled audience members after the speech, no one could clearly articulate what their boss had said, or state specifically what he wanted them to do. To ensure your words are meaningful and memorable, please consider the tips below.


Thank you for your loyal readership, and Happy Holidays!


Kind regards,


Be Clear: Cut the Clich�s

By Darlene Price, Well Said, Inc.

"The surest sign of the truth is simplicity and clarity."

--Leo Tolstoy


When you speak or write, the first goal is clarity. You want your listeners or readers to understand your intended message. Clich�s are barriers to simple clear communication because they mask true meaning; they lack specificity, influence, and originality. You'll gain more credibility and engage with listeners more effectively when you say what you mean, in your own words. Here are suggested replacements for the above clich�s.

  1. Tee it up.  Unless you understand the game of golf, this phrase makes no sense. Instead say, "Introduce," or "Provide some background."
  2. Ducks in a row. Exchange this stock saying with, "Consistently work the steps of our sales process," or "Get organized," or "Prepare properly."
  3. Cutting edge technology. Replace this stale overused marketing term by saying what you really mean: "This new product gives users the fastest processing speed on the planet."
  4. Knock it out of the park. Define what you mean by a home-run: "Sell one million units before the end of the year." 
  5. Open the kimono.  Do you really want to expose the nudity of one wearing a traditional Japanese robe? Replace this odd and tasteless expression with real meaning:  "Here's the fact," or "In full disclosure, let me say..."
  6. Dropped the ball. Lose the vague sports analogy and explain the mistake: "We missed a big opportunity to be the first-to-market."
  7. Lost our shirts. Say instead what you actually lost: "Because of the delayed release, we lost 17% of our customer base and had to cut 210 jobs."
  8. Throw one under the bus. This murderous image may be replaced with the fact: "There's no one to blame," or, "The management team takes full responsibility for this error." 
  9. It is what it is. This empty quip often sounds flippant and resigned. Instead say, "We can't change the facts," or "We need to accept this reality."
  10. Paradigm shift. This timeworn term emerged as a marketing buzzword in the 1990s. Instead say, "a fundamental change in approach," or "critical adjustment to underlying assumptions."
  11. Bite the bullet. During the U.S. Civil War, injured soldiers clenched a bullet between their teeth during surgery to distract them from the pain. Instead, clearly state what you mean: "We must endure," or "I urge you to persist."
  12. Do more with less. Do more of what with less of what? At it's worst, this tired one-liner is a corporate euphemism for "Do more work with less pay" or "Work smarter," as though the listener is not already doing so. Instead, be specific: "Despite our 10% budget cut, I'm asking you to increase..."
  13. Think outside the box. This phrase began sweeping the business world in the 1970s as management consultants challenged their clients to solve the "Nine Dots" puzzle. Listeners unfamiliar with the analogy are likely to ask, "What box?" Instead be explicit. For example, "Stretch your imagination and think of three news ways you can..."
  14. Move the needle. Unless you're demonstrating an odometer or other measuring instrument, say instead, "Produce a measurable result."
  15. Low-hanging fruit. Please don't refer to a prospect or customer as 'fruit' ready to be easily picked. Instead say, "You'll find immediate success with prospects who already need our product," or "Start with the tasks that are easily achievable and require the least effort."
  16. Hit the ground running. Rather than referencing military troops dropped into a combat zone, say what you mean: "Don't wait. Start tomorrow morning at 9:00 a.m."
  17. Bring your A-game. Be clear and say, "Give it your absolute best effort, as though a championship depended on your abilities."
  18. At the end of the day. Unless you're speaking about an actual event occurring at 6:00 p.m., say instead, "Finally," or "Ultimately," or "In order to regain our leadership position..."
  19. Take it to the next level. Are you referring to specific measurable performance levels, which are familiar to the listener? If not, don't use this unclear catchphrase because nobody knows what the next level looks like. Instead be specific: "We need to sell 30% more widgets this year," or, "Become the market leader by year-end."
  20. Synergize. This worn-out buzzword became popular 25 years ago in Stephen Covey's book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. It's a powerful concept when stated simply and clearly, as Big Bird from Sesame Street sings, "With just a little cooperation, we can make it through--me and you, me and you."

Please read my recent interview with Business Insider to learn more "Business Clich�s to Cut from Your Vocabulary."


If you would like to learn more about presenting yourself and your message to others, please read my book, Well Said! Presentations and Conversations That Get Results (available in hard cover, audio, and Kindle). 


Or contact me directly to schedule an in-house corporate workshop for you and your team. I would be honored to support your speaking success!


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