September 19, 2008

What's your crutch phrase?

We can all think of a catch phrase that identifies a person or character (the Fonz said "Aaayyyy;" Emeril says "Bam;" Homer Simpson says "Doh") and becomes their signature word, phrase or, in the case of these three, more of an utterance.

However, the flip side of this is the "crutch phrase," a word or expression, repeated over and over, that someone leans on because they can't think of anything better to say. A crutch phrase can be a cliché, like "At the end of the day," or it can just be a filler that doesn't add anything to the conversation or presentation, like "Anyway...." Or in my case, "Right?"

Last year I wrote about a panel moderator who said "Excellent" after each and every response made by a panelist.

I recently had a conversation with someone who said, "In reference to..." several times in each sentence. Over the course of a 20-minute conversation, he might have said this 20 or 30 times.

To use an expression like this once does not make it a crutch. It becomes a crutch when you repeat it enough times that it becomes a recognizable pattern. It's usually unconscious, so recording yourself should help you identify any crutch phrases in your speech.

Most of us have a crutch phrase; don't kid yourself that you don't. Used in casual conversation, these phrases are not necessarily as irritating as they are in presentations -- people are often more forgiving in a one-on-one setting. Unless you're trying to come across as professional and articulate. Then you're probably blowing it.

In a presentation, however, these verbal tics are much more noticeable and magnified by the fact that you are the only one talking and all the focus is on you.

The trick is hearing yourself speak and being aware of your crutch phrase, so that when you give a presentation you don't drive your audience crazy with your tic.

I'm aware of mine and I'm working on eradicating it. I'm getting better, really.

What's yours?

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12 comments. Please add yours! :

Anonymous said...

Does the dreaded "Ummmm" count?

Lisa Braithwaite said...

Only if it's repeated frequently to the point where it's noticeable. A couple of ums here and there aren't going to ruin your presentation. :-)

Unknown said...

Are you tracking with me? Come on. Right?

Those tend to be my top three. Honorable mention - Is anyone in here hot besides me?

Lisa Braithwaite said...

Hey, did I get "right" from you?

And "is anyone hot in here?" is just a given...

Anonymous said...

"Does that make sense?"

The answer is typically No!

The crutch phrase is a problem when it becomes a distraction -- just like ummm and ah and all the variants that we have discussed before.

Note, the "crutch phrase" is not to be confused with the "catch phrase." The catch phrase is intentional. When I was teaching a very complicated software installation class I had a catch phrase, "Slow is the new fast!" The point was to keep them from getting ahead of us instructors. Go fast, go down in flames.

Lisa Braithwaite said...

Good one, Jeff. People ask "does that make sense?" way too much! If it doesn't, they'll let you know.

Matthew Cornell said...

Well of course there's the common "uh" which is so very annoying when it is frequent. God help me if I do it! My midwesterner mother uses "so ANYway". I have a friend who says "at any rate" (which I like). I suppose the key is whether we use them too often or misuse them.

Great topic!

Lisa Braithwaite said...

"So ANYway..." is good when you've been rudely interrupted by someone and you want them to know they interrupted you. Haha - might be funny in one-on-one conversations, but don't try this in a presentation!

Anonymous said...

I have to confess that I tend to ask "Does that make sense" four or five times in a day's training... but to my horror I discovered I'd used the phrase "Close enough for Jazz" three times in a half hour!

Okay, three times isn't a true crutch but it was pretty salutary!


Lisa Braithwaite said...

Painful, Simon! At least you discovered it before you can do more damage! And what exactly does that mean?

Anonymous said...

It's a slang term from the UK. It means "approximately right and close enough to mean it's not worth spending any more time on" or "Perfection isn't necessary"... that sort of thing.


Lisa Braithwaite said...

Thanks for clarifying; that's one I haven't heard before!

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