Counting the Cost of Clichés

Voice and Communication Skills Top Tips: Using Expressions

We all have our favourite expressions and phrases – whatever nationality we are.

Selective use of expressions in a presentation, or other business communication, can be used to attract attention, illustrate a point or simply to put people at ease. It’s very easy, however, for expressions to become habitual. An expression which is overused can soon become a cliché. So why is this a problem? 

Clichés are repeated, meaningless expressions. They don’t add anything to your message and in fact they can quickly alienate your listeners. There are hundreds of clichés, and people have collected lists of their most hated ones on the internet – a useful reference if you suspect you may be using some yourself.

Anyone using English in an international context - be warned! You may think that by using an expression, such as ‘at the end of the day’, you are demonstrating a colloquial understanding of the language. The danger is that the phrase you have frequently heard in business circles or in the media has in fact become outdated and irritating. At worst, it can even give the impression that you are an inexperienced or poor speaker.

At an economics presentation I attended, I found myself counting the number of times the speaker said, ‘is that clear to everybody?’. Her simple question (which we all responded to enthusiastically at the first time of asking) had become a cliché. Because she used it repeatedly, it detracted from her talk (which I don’t remember at all). If the speaker had rephrased her question whenever she asked it – and actually meant it - the effect would have been significantly stronger.

Native English speakers tend to think less about whether an English expression will be understood or not by their international colleagues. So they need to take especial care.

And clichés aren’t only derived from the English language. Non-native English speakers regularly export phrases from their own language into international business. For example, ‘from my side…’ is an expression we regularly hear from our German-speaking clients. This is translated directly from ‘von meiner Seite...’ meaning ‘from my point of view…’.

Personal expressions can add to the individuality of the speaker. Try, however, to avoid meaningless clichés and culturally-specific idiom.

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