How to undermine your point with weak language

Imagine the scene.  You’ve spent days preparing a major presentation to a new client, and you’re coming to the end of the pitch.  You’ve moved from what they need, to what you can do for them, how you will proceed, the costs carefully explained in context of the results to be delivered.   Now is the time for that strong finish.  You have the people’s full attention, and the decision maker is looking expectantly at you as you say-

‘So, to sum it up before I finish, we understand your needs, we’ve shown you how we will work with you to help you make your business even stronger, and you’ll see that we are the people who can, hopefully….’

At that moment, all of the work and the momentum you’ve built in the room evaporates.  You can hear the energy and, ironically, the hope leaving the room through the air-conditioning.  ‘Hopefully?’  You can hear them say to themselves.  Hopefully?  What good is hopefully to me? Thinks the CEO.

We all know what you meant.  Professional people struggle with certainty.  We’ve been brought up on probability and risk, and the dangers of making promises.  We’re trained to mitigate and qualify what we say, but it doesn’t help us to sell.  Why?  Because clients want certainty.

Yes, we should be careful not to make traps for ourselves, but a pitch should be about ‘if and then’, not ‘maybe’.  ‘If we do that, and if you do the other, then we will be successful’.  But ‘hopefully’ does something else entirely. It places all of our work, skills and experience in a box marked ‘we’re not sure we can actually pull this off’. Here are a few of the other words that fulfil the same vanishing trick on the impression that we want to convey-

  • Maybe
  • Sometimes
  • Quite
  • With luck and a following wind

How do you stop yourself from saying these words?  Rehearse in front of a critical audience, script yourself more closely in the most important elements of your speech, notice other people doing the same thing and remember what it feels like when they do.

This is a part of my Fit, Focus & Flair model. To be great, a presentation must be a perfect FIT for the situation; the content must have complete FOCUS on it’s purpose and message; and it must have enough FLAIR to stand out on the day, and in our memories. Learn more about developing your Fit, Focus and Flair.

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