Female feet from the window of a car on a background of tropical beach

I had the pleasure of meeting a former colleague and friend for dinner last night. We had a great time catching up and walking down memory lane. Lots of laughs – and some new stories were shared.

Turns out she never heard about the time when I was presenting to a group of employee engagement experts, and after the presentation, an audience member came up and handed me his card. He stood there looking at it, which signaled I was to do the same. I commented on how great it was the he, the statistical wizard of our field, had joined us for the session. He stood there, like a statue…waiting. I turned the card over, and on the back he had written, “Data is plural.” I looked up at him with what I am sure was an incredulous look on my face, and he said, “Just thought you should know.”

That was quite a moment. The computer in my head started searching for the number of times I said, “The data shows,” instead of “the data show.”  Many times. And since then, I have been listening for this grammatical gaffe, and the “data shows” the majority of speakers use data as singular and plural. Otherwise, we would all have to say “datum” which sounds so snooty.

This got us talking about the age-old advice for speakers to use a conversational tone when presenting. Be approachable, be real. Great advice. The problem is, most of us have really bad habits, favorite slang, and go-to shorthand that not only fails to connect us with our audience, but can undermine our credibility. My friend gave a great example. In a best-and-final presentation, with ten decision-makers looking at her, she said, “We get off on statistical analysis.” I laughed out loud. What a great example of conversational communication that should not be invited on stage.

What are your verbal missteps?  The only way to find out is to tape yourself and listen back, or have a colleague offer feedback. Cleaning up word choices, idioms, vernacular and jargon will instantly make us all better speakers.

If you are interested in more tips, tricks and techniques on all things spoken, stay tuned for the launch of our Dynamic Speaker Series next week!