The important business presentation was very going well.
The presenter had the audience’s full attention – the graphs and numbers were impressive – but then, titters of laughter and a crash in credibility – all because of word confusion – one little mistake!
The presenter was talking about the effect of PEER group pressure – but on the screen, on the presentation was written PIER group pressure.
Some in the audience pointed out the mistake to others (accompanied with snickers and chortles and even mimed actions of reeling in a fish).
The presenter could feel the audience attention slipping away – his confidence was broken and he never recovered for the rest of the presentation.
As a word nerd/business communication trainer I get paid to help make sure these mistakes don’t happen in business presentations.
I work with business people who are far smarter than I am. My talent is helping smart people with the basics – and coming up with simple, easy-to-remember ways to help business people avoid mistakes and choose the right word.
I always encourage clients to make sure they choose the right words (both the written words presented on the screen AND the spoken words).
For written words Spellcheck isn’t enough – both PIER and PEER are proper words and would slip through undetected. This presentation just had the wrong PIER.
I encourage clients to practise their presentation in front of others and catch and correct any wrong words. This is what the top business people do for presentations where there is a lot at STEAK! (Yes, that’s another common problem in the business world)
Now you may ask yourself – who would make such simple errors?
The answer: simple mistakes are very common – especially in the busy business world where:
1. presenters often “wing it” without adequate preparation
2. many younger (super-smart) business people have never been taught the basics about different words
3. many super-capable execs from ESL backgrounds (English as a Second language) get the “little things” wrong in their writing or spoken presentations
I’m often brought in to help people with the basics and with simple memory devices. Some top execs are embarrassed – but the most effective ones call in help to make sure they are using the right words. From experience, I’ve found that often in advertising, people who are exceptional in speaking have managed to cover up that they have poor spelling or written skills.
So if you sometimes have challenges choosing the right word – don’t be embarrassed – lots of super-smart business people have challenges too.
Anyway, we make sure we catch these wrong word mistakes and we make sure people remember the right word for next time.
An easy way to remember, is to make it visual and memorable – sometimes the letters in the word itself – of connecting to something that you can visualise.
1. Your Peers – means people like you, your equals. Remember pEEr – the two e’s that are Equal and like each other.
2. For Pier – Think of the word fIsh. It has an I in it and think fIshing off a pIer – so the pIer with an I in it is the one you can fIsh from.
3. Then there is another PEER – the verb to look hard to try to sEE. I’m sure now you can sEE a visual/memorable way to choose the right pEEr for this meaning!
I know this may sound very basic – but I get great feedback from business people that these techniques help them remember – and the business people say they use the memory technique to explain how to choose the right word to their work colleagues, their kids, or their grandkids!
It’s funny, I owe a lot of success to the hours I put in helping my kids remember how to spell – connecting words to something interesting and memorable.
English can be such a complex language – even for native English speakers.
From my experience of helping businesses people choose the right words – other common problem words include:
wave – waive
discreet – discrete
complimentary – complementary
bear – bare
as well as the usual incorrect use of your/you’re and their/there/they’re
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It you are from a business and would like some discreet help to check and practise your presentations, please feel free to contact me on firstname.lastname@example.org