Three Verbal Language Secrets to Communicating with Authority

Wendy Gates CorbettFri, 04/20/2018 - 15:20

You’ve defined the needs and are ready to recommend solutions. To present those solutions in a live, in-person presentation you’ll use at least two or three types of language: (1) verbal language, which is what you say or don’t say, (2) body language, which is how you use gestures, facial expressions, and movement to convey your message, and, (3) slide language, if you’re using presentation slides. This three-part series will share secrets for each of the three types of language commonly used to present. In this post, we’ll focus on how to choose and use the right words to communicate your message in ways that maximize your authority and the strength of your recommendations.

The words you use make an impression on those who hear them. They say a lot about you, more than you think they do. There are two types of words: ‘power words’ and ‘weak words.’ Some ‘power words’ are powerful because they increase your influence and the likelihood that your message will be received the way you intend. Others are powerful because they squash your influence and dilute the strength of your message.

Power Words

“Yes” or “No”

Research shows that we can respect strong, definitive opinions, even if we don’t agree with those opinions. When stakeholders ask your opinion, don’t hedge! Avoid the tendency to be wishy-washy. Instead, tell them what you really think (diplomatically, of course). For example, who makes a stronger positive impression?

Yes or No


Consider this: when you read “No, we cannot meet the budget for the deliverable in its current format.”, what’s one of the first questions that pop into your mind? It’s likely, “Why can’t we meet the budget?” When presenting your recommendations and/or opinions, add a ‘because’ statement that answers the ‘why?’ question before it’s even asked. Provide your stakeholders with the why behind your opinion to add to your influence and credibility. It shows you’ve made a smart, informed opinion.

“…, but…”

“But” is one of the ‘power words’ to avoid because it puts the listener on the defensive (see how I did that with the ‘because’ statement?). When we’re defensive, we’re not listening intently with the aim of understanding. Instead, we’re thinking about how to defend ourselves as we respond. Instead of using ‘but’, replace it with ‘and’ or with nothing. For example, which of the statements below is more likely to be received well?


Weak Words

Some ‘power words’ make a positive impression and maximize your impact. All ‘weak words’ leave a negative impression because just as some ‘power words’ increase your authority, ‘weak words’ dilute your influence and the impact of your message.

Hedgers (“Kind of”, “Sort of”, "Or Whatever")

Hedgers are ‘weak words’ because they dilute the strength of your message. They’re the flip side of “Yes/No”: just as we respect strong, definitive opinions, we do NOT respect watered-down opinions. Common hedgers include: ‘kind of…’, ‘sort of…’, ‘a little bit…’, and ‘…or whatever’. For example, what’s your reaction to your co-worker if she says to you:

Kinda Sorta

“I’ll try to…”

“Try”, as in “I’ll try to get the report to you by Friday”, dilutes your message by undermining your credibility and/or your commitment. It says that you lack confidence in your own ability to complete the task. Or, even worse, it conveys that you don’t really want to commit, but don’t have the integrity to be honest about it. In some situations, “try” could signal a lack of respect for the relationship. For example, let’s say that your friend, Chris says to you, “I’m going to try to make it to Fido’s birthday party.” You know that Chris is probably not going to make it to Fido’s party, Chris knows she’s not going to make it and she knows that you know she’s not going make it. She’s copping out on making a commitment thereby diminishing the quality of your relationship by hiding behind the façade of “try.”

Instead of “trying”, either propose an alternative that you can commit to or let the other person know when you will be able to make a commitment. For example, “I will know by this afternoon whether I can commit to sending you the report by Friday. I’ll let you know for sure by the end of day today.”

Fluff (“Um”, “Uh”, and “Without further ado”, “With that being said”, “At the end of the day…”

‘Fluff’ is my term for words that don’t add any value to your communication. Filler words such as ‘um’ and ‘uh’ are ‘fluff’. Other common fluffs include “without further ado…” (what is ‘ado’? it stems from the 12th Century!), ‘with that being said…’ (what value does that add to your recommendation?) and one of my favorites, ‘at the end of the day…’. Fluff dilutes the strength of your message by obscuring it amidst words that don’t add substance. Make a commitment (don’t just ‘try’) to identifying your own fluff words and work to delete them one by one.

You’ve committed hours analyzing and defining the needs. You’ve identified the most effective solutions. Make sure you’re using the right ‘power words’ and avoiding ‘weak words’ to convey the strength of your solutions with confidence, authority, and the influence you deserve.