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Add Zip by Zapping Clichés

By Paula Fuchsberg


Zapping cliches

When you hear a speaker use too many well-worn phrases, do you find yourself wondering, Have I heard this speech before? Yet, when composing your own speeches, do you lean too often on similar crutches?

Your listeners may nod in recognition of a familiar cliché. More likely, though, they may simply nod off.

Clichés so pervade our language that they can be hard to avoid. And their sporadic presence in a speech, especially when given an unexpected twist, isn’t the concern. But their overuse can detract from your message and keep it from sounding fresh, concrete and memorable.

How can you combat cliché-itis? Take a break from your speech draft, then reread it carefully and pause to think about what each phrase actually means. Try recording the draft, or practice it on someone, and stale expressions may jump out in a way they didn’t in print.

A thesaurus can stimulate brainstorming and help you find suitable, sensible alternatives. For example, instead of describing an outcome as “par for the course,” you could note that it’s “typical,” “unsurprising” or “inevitable,” or perhaps just imply as much in a less direct fashion.

Often a cliché can be pared down while conveying the same meaning. “Never in my wildest dreams,” for instance, is readily pruned to an unfussy “never.” In other cases, a cliché may be filler that you can simply expunge. Example: “It goes without saying”—so why say it?

Sometimes, apprehension about public speaking sends your mind into cliché mode. Imagine instead that you’re conveying the same content informally to a family member or friend; how would you phrase your thoughts in that setting?

Staying extra conscious of your word choices goes a long way toward keeping clichés in check.