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We’ve written before about phrases we regularly hear in media interviews which should be avoided.
In fact we have previously identified 18 from interviews we have seen on television and radio and from our media training courses.
We thought that was pretty comprehensive, only to subsequently find yet more words that are both annoying and pointless.
So we have compiled another list.
And while this may seem fairly light-hearted, using these words and phrases in interviews can make spokespeople sound heavily scripted and insincere and cause audiences to switch off.
So here are another nine phrases we think you should add to the naughty list:
1 'Can I start by saying three things?'
This is sometimes used at the very start of an interview in an attempt to gain control and ensure the spokesperson gets their messages across. The problem is it usually means the question which has just been asked by the reporter is being totally ignored and it makes the interview sound completely scripted and unnatural. It is likely to irritate the audience and will almost certainly annoy the journalist. On our media training courses we stress the importance of trying to create a natural sounding conversation – this expression makes spokespeople appear like talking robots. Obviously it is crucial a spokesperson takes the opportunity to get their messages across, but there are much better, and certainly more subtle, ways of doing it than this.
2 'Deeply concerned'
This was a favourite phrase of former Prime Minister David Cameron who used it in many, many statements and interviews. In fact, typing ‘David Cameron deeply concerned’ into Google returns 1.3 million results. The wider problem here is he is not alone and the phrase has become a generic, automatic response when things go wrong and people and organisations need to show they care. Such is its overuse that when audiences hear it they question whether the organisation really does care or is indeed even particularly interested in what they are talking about.
Two problems with this word – it has become hideously overused and, more importantly, what you are announcing is in fact almost certainly not ‘groundbreaking’ at all. Unless perhaps you’re a mining company.
Similarly boastful guff such a ‘revolutionary’, ‘world-leading’, ‘cutting-edge’ and the recent, seemingly mandatory, addition ‘game-changer’ also fall into this category and should be avoided unless you can prove it really is any of these things (we doubt it).
4 'Root and branch'
Whenever something goes wrong it seems to be compulsory for the media spokesperson to announce they will be launching a ‘root and branch review’. It appears to have become a key component of the crisis media management playbook, and is a particular favourite of public sector organisations. Sceptics may suggest it is a hollow phrase which translates as little more than ‘tinkering around the edges’. ‘Thorough’ or ‘comprehensive’ are much better alternatives.
5 'Raise awareness'
During my first job as a journalist it was very quickly drummed into me by a shouty sub-editor that under no circumstances was I to use the phrase ‘raise awareness’ in my copy. The reason being that the article itself was awareness raising.
All these years later, however, it feels like I’m about the only one to heed this lesson and now you regularly hear spokespeople talk about trying to ‘raise awareness’ during interviews even though that is exactly what the radio or TV appearance is doing. Spend the time more wisely by telling us what you actually want to raise awareness about.
A word which has inexplicably crept into media interviews with infuriating regularity recently. It is likely to be met with a collective groan from the audience and even a desperate search for the remote or the off button. It is simply a meaningless buzzword and the sooner it goes out of fashion the better.
7 'Reach out'
A truly horrible expression, which seems to be used by people who want to appear more intelligent than they really are. It is also an example of management or corporate speak unfortunately slipping into wider use. What is wrong with ‘contact’ or get in ‘touch’. Inexplicably, as they are supposed to be completely opposed to the use of jargon, we have sadly seen some journalists use this phrases in their copy, for example ending stories with ‘we reached out to (organisation name) for comment’. Enough is enough, the use of this expression needs to end. Now.
8 'Real change / real improvement'
How often have you heard a spokesperson promise to deliver ‘real change’ or ‘real benefits’? The answer of course, is far too often. Obviously ‘real’ is used to attempt to add emphasis but it actually adds nothing and its continual use by spokespeople is annoying. Anyway, at what point does change or improvement become ‘real change and real improvement’? How do you measure it? See, it is completely useless.
Very is another word spokespeople fall back on to add emphasis to their messages. But, as with the use of ‘real’ it often detracts from the response and at the very least it adds nothing. Do listeners to an interview learn anything more from hearing you are ‘very interested’ than ‘interested’? But don’t just take my word for it. The American novelist Florence King described it as the ‘most useless word in the English language’ and added that it ‘invariably weakens what it is intended to strengthen’. The good news is it is a very easy word to cut out.
Do you agree? Are there more phrases which need to be added? I’d love to hear your thoughts. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or comment in the box below.
Media First are media and communications training specialists with over 30 years of experience. We have a team of trainers, each with decades of experience working as journalists, presenters, communications coaches and media trainers.
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