All Articles Leadership Communication Projecting confidence: Here are 5 words and phrases to avoid

Projecting confidence: Here are 5 words and phrases to avoid

It is important to speak with authority in a timely manner while still using carefully considered words.

5 min read




When the opportunity arises to speak, we all want to make the most of the opportunity. It is important to speak with authority in a timely manner while still using carefully considered words.

It seems a tricky situation, speaking up and still appearing confident while saying something unrehearsed. If you’re struggling in this kind of situation, read on to learn about the types of words and phrases you should avoid when you want to project confidence.

Confidence comes with practice, so don’t just wait for occasions to come along. Instead, work on banishing the following words and phrases from your everyday discussions, and practice your confident communication at every opportunity.

Avoid: Filler words

Noise words, including “umm,” “uh” and “like” indicate you’re not exactly sure what you’re going to say next, which makes you sound less confident. Often, they are perceived as someone stalling for time, or worse, attempting to “hold the floor” and prevent others from talking while they scramble for what to say.

Instead: Ask and listen

The art of being a confident communicator begins with listening. Instead of thinking about what you’re going to say next, truly listen to what the other person is saying, take a moment to consider their ideas and then formulate a clear and confident response. Ask questions in meetings to encourage more detail, different angles or another idea. Listen to the answers and then speak. Your response will be better informed, tighter and more confident, not to mention more appreciated by those whose input you sought.

Avoid: Weak words

“Usually,” “sometimes” and “probably” are weak words in a professional context. It tells the audience you’re not certain what you’re saying is true and are hedging your bets, just in case you’re wrong.

Instead: Project conviction

If you want to project confidence, add the word “definitely” to your vocabulary. Communicate that you are 100% certain in your statements.

Avoid: Overused terms

Phrases like “state of the art” and “cutting edge” used to be reserved for truly ground breaking innovation. Today, these terms are used so often in marketing copy they’ve completely lost their impact. Similarly, people are fond of throwing around the concept of “thinking outside the box” so frequently that it barely means anything anymore. Using these tired terms may even take away from what you’re communicating, making your message seem derivative or something they’ve heard before.

Instead: Clear communication

Often when we grasp at a tired phrase, we’re trying to use a type of shorthand to convey an idea to our audience. Resist the urge and think about what you’re really trying to communicate. Use your own words to describe how or why something is new, or innovative, or an unconventional idea. Chances are, doing so will better inform others anyway.

Avoid: Tasteless phrases

It bears thinking about the origin of a phrase before using it, even if you have heard others utter it many times before. Dark and unpleasant histories are sometimes conjured by their use — “drinking the kool-aid” and “opening the kimono” are two such phrases. The last thing you need is to make your audience inwardly cringe. If you aren’t certain of the origin of a popular phrase or cultural reference, steer clear.

Instead: Use simple terms

Witty phrases and complex language may make you feel smarter, but that won’t help you connect with your audience. Speak plainly and describe exactly what you mean. Listeners will appreciate clear and concise language that doesn’t require cultural or historical context. Being easily understood will gain you a competitive advantage.

Avoid: Made-up words

English is an ever-evolving language and terms that simply didn’t exist 10 years before do make their way into the common lexicon, eventually. Be wary, however, of jumping on board with trendy terms to describe your thoughts and opinions. Not all words become dictionary material; many quickly become overused or seen as attention-seeking, passé or ill-informed, not to mention dangerous if you aren’t sure of the origin or meaning.

Instead: Know your audience

It can distract your listeners if you use terms or phrases that annoy them or make them wince when misused. Suddenly, their minds are whirling away on a single word, or an obscure reference, instead of concentrating on what you’re saying. Stick to clear, concise language and words you know well. Know your audience and avoid distracting them from your message.

Confident communication takes practice. Work on listening, questioning and giving considered, clear responses at every opportunity. Don’t forget to make these habits part of your everyday interactions – it will help you when the pressure is on to speak up in a larger group or with your boss. Be assertive in your actions and decisive in your decision-making. You will be sure to present as a powerful, polished and confident person.


Joel Garfinkle conducts executive leadership coaching. He recently developed a step-by-step Executive Presence Program for a vice president focusing on how she could convey more confidence and command respect. After six months, she learned to radiate gravitas, act with authority and communicate with power. Joel has written seven books, including “Getting Ahead.” More than 10,000 people subscribe to his Fulfillment@Work newsletter. If you sign up, you’ll receive the free e-book “41 Proven Strategies to Get Promoted Now.”

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