Dress to Impress in Business English

Perhaps you know how to express yourself in English, get your basic message across? But ask yourself this one question: am I always using the same words or expressions?

In short, do you feel like you should add some colour to your vocabulary?

Does it matter?

Well, yes, it does actually. The more varied your vocabulary is, the more pictures you can paint with your words, the more you will connect with the person/people listening to you and the easier it will be to ensure they understand your message and act accordingly. In other words, you’ll be taken more seriously and make more impact.

So, if you feel that you’ve been seeing a faraway look in the eye of your listeners once too often lately, follow these tips:

1.    Renew Your Vocabulary “Wardrobe”

Try to avoid dull words that don’t add flavour to your phrases such as “it was a nice trip”, “we had a big meeting”, “the latest report said that”, “they gave him a bad appraisal” etc. These words are vastly overused and lack power, creating an immediate yawn effect. Replace these words with more descriptive synonyms to really drive your message home.

What else can you do?

To extend your vocabulary, why not read more articles about your line of business in online newspapers (The Guardian, The New York Times, The Independent…), visit business websites (Forbes, Business Insider…) and watch online news channels such as the BBC, CNN etc.. Make a note of the vocabulary and expressions that you know will be most useful to you (remember to apply the 80/20 rule) and practice with them, first at home on your own and then at work.

Check out the infographics on www.Grammarcheck.net for some ideas on synonyms or do-it-yourself by gradually making a list of some of the words you feel you use the most and using an online dictionary such as www.thesaurus.com to find more colourful definitions. For example, instead of safely sticking with the word good yet again, depending on your underlying message, you could use exceptional, favourable, positive, valuable, first-rate, sound…. the list is endless and the right word with the right image can really make a world of difference.

2.   Throw Out Overused Jargon or Buzz Words

According to a recent article in the UK’s Daily Telegraph, the most hated office jargon in 2017 was reported to include words or phrases such as “game changer”, “no-brainer”, “touch base”, “pick it up and run with it”, “thought shower” and “blue sky thinking”. This type of overused management speak has become somewhat of a business cliché and creates a whatever effect (i.e. a loss of impact). It is even criticised for actually getting in the way of new business and isolating newcomers who may not know the jargon.

Maybe the problem is that you know it’s cliché but you don’t want to be the only one not using the buzzword? Be warned: there is an app called Business Buzzword Bingo where the goal is to tick a set number of words and then signal “bingo” to other participants. This is played in workplace situations where speakers use an endless amount of buzzwords. So, if you don’t want to be the star attraction of this game, don’t be a “jargon junkie”!

3.   Add Idioms and Metaphors as Accessories

Perhaps you’re in a board room, waiting for a meeting to start. You can hear snippets of conversations from people at the doorway. Someone announces that the new project he’s working on isn’t a bed of roses and that he thinks he’s bitten off more than he can chew. Another is talking about the new big fish in the company and someone else that the recent announcement was a bitter pill to swallow. What????

It’s not only important to be able to understand this type of business expression but also to use them yourself in the right context. Idioms often evoke images so try to link them to a picture in your mind to help you remember them. One such expression is to beat around the bush: if your boss asks you to stop “beating around the bush”, he/she means that you are avoiding the main topic and that you should start talking directly about it.

Similarly, metaphors can help us simplify a complex idea. There are numerous metaphors and idioms from the world of sport for instance so if you are giving a presentation in front of a room filled with people who you know are football fans, then you could try using this type of metaphor to engage their attention. Example: “if we don’t start playing in the next league, we’ll end up sitting on the bench or “we’ll be stuck on the sideline, which means that the company will fall behind its competitors if it doesn’t start performing better.

The main thing with metaphors and idioms is to make them real and personal as much as possible. Write them down, applying them to your own specific business scenarios, and then try to place them in conversation. Why not aim to learn 2 new idioms each day and have fun trying to use them. Fun is the operative word – you need to make English fun for YOU. Look at it as more of a game than an obligation and you’ll be up and running.


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