Use “Power Words” in Presentations and Media Interviews

When speakers at a conference and commentators on television begin a sentence with “I think” or “I hope,” it detracts from their expertise. Those are not power words.Power Words

Even well-known experts often start a sentence with tentative phrases. You aren’t invited to speak at a conference or appear on national television for what you think. You’re invited for what you know. You’re the expert.

Lead With Words That Work

Be forceful in stating your point of view. “Social networks like Twitter and Facebook have contributed to the downfall of dictatorships” is powerful. Whereas, “I think that social networks….” I know you get the idea.

Begin with a powerful “grabber” – a statement, a rhetorical question or an anecdote that will immediately get the audience’s attention. Here’s an example, “Social networks such as Twitter and Facebook are sure to contribute to the fall of more dictatorships. Here’s why.” Can’t you just see the audience leaning in to learn more?

Avoid Tentative Words

These words are fillers. They make a speaker seem tentative:

“I’m going to talk about…”
“My topic is…”
“I’ve been asked to…”
“I believe…”
“It seems to me that…”

Do Use Power Words and Phrases

“I’m convinced…”
“There’s no question that…”
“No doubt…”
“You will change your attitude forever about…”

Words That Lived On

Celebrated speakers do not use waffle words in their speeches.

Think of Martin Luther King who proclaimed,

I have a dream…”

He didn’t say, “I’d like to tell you about my dream.”

John F. Kennedy stated,

“Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.”

It was a powerful call to action. He didn’t say, “I’d like to ask for your help.”

Winston Churchill hit the mark when he said,

“If you have an important point to make, don’t try to be subtle or clever. Use a pile driver. Hit the point once. Then come back and hit it again. Then hit it a third time – a tremendous whack.”

To be perceived as an expert, follow Churchill’s advice and give a tremendous whack to useless words and get right to the point.

4 comments to Use “Power Words” in Presentations and Media Interviews

  • Joyce,
    Couldn’t agree more.

    It’s like my dear friend Jack Vincent says in his book “Sales Presentations That Snap, Crackle and Pop”: Go big or go home!


  • Great advice! The same holds true for cover letters from job applicants. When I read “I believe I am a good fit for…” what I’m really seeing is “blah blah blah…” Say it like you mean it!

  • Theresa

    Great advice Joyce. I’ve posted it to my profile as a reminder! I soften comments to avoid sounding bossy. It’s a double-edged sword.

  • Don Bates

    Joyce knows of what she speaks because she speaks and teaches other people to speak. In this era of email and online frenzy, we need to get to the point sooner and more incisively because our audiences have less time and shorter attention spans. So no “backing in,” as Joyce suggests. Get to the point.

    I’m fond of telling my writing students to avoid starting letters and pitches with unnecessary phrases such as “I would like to invite you to attend” or “I’m writing because I thought you might be interested in” and so forth. Instead, I ask them to write: “I invite you to attend [visit, cover, speak, volunteer, etc.], or “I’m writing to introduce X.” Don’t bob and weave for fear of asking for what you want or not conforming to “Official Style,” as Richard Lanham, author of “Revising Prose,” famously nicknamed indirect writing and speaking.

    Last week, my son wrote the first draft of a school presentation about a charity he liked. His original attempt had a conventional lead: “I would like to tell you about an organization I like and that I think you’ll like. Two years ago, a teenage boy started a foundation for….”

    I asked him what he wanted to happen because of his words. He said, “To get kids in my school to donate stuff to this organization.” I told him to make that clear at the start, 1) to attract their interest and 2) to empower his detailed call to action at the end.

    He eventually went with, “Hi. I want you to help me and some friends collect sports equipment for hundreds of poor kids in the Dominican Republic who have to play baseball with cardboard gloves and bats they make from old boxes. Let me tell you about the great group that will make it easy for us.” Then he said, “Two years ago….” Same speech, but more direct, interesting, assertive lead. As FDR advised people who spoke at his meetings: “Be sincere; be brief; be seated.”

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