The Big Bad Word in Presentations

What’s the most common gaffe made by public speakers nowadays?

Using the word ‘stuff’.

This is for you, Omar Khan. (Of course, the whole point of the article is that too many people do it for their own good, but Omar sprang to mind as I read this.)

Patricia Fripp, an executive speech coach, is spot-on with her takedown of people’s carelessness – and that’s what I think it is. It’s just too easy to say ‘stuff’, ‘etcetera’, or ‘and so on’ because they give the impression that the speaker knows more than he/she really does (which is, more often than not, wrong). More importantly, people are convinced by solid facts and figures, by tangibles, not by ‘impressions’.

The worst thing about “stuff” is that it is not specific! As my associate David Palmer, PhD has programmed me to think, “Specificity builds credibility.”

So it’s simply a waste of breath AND time to just say ‘stuff’ in a formal setting. Breath because you could say something but you really said NOTHING, and time because you would probably have to explain again.

Yes, I know this sounds anal retentive, but I am referring to language in specific situations – for example job interviews. We’ve just graduated from IBA, one of the best business institutions in the country, and if our speech consists of mostly ‘um’ and ‘you know’ and ‘etcetera’, that’s not going to help us get jobs. Having a good vocabulary is an asset. Exploit it. Using good language is not ‘stiff’, ‘formal’, ‘nerdy’ – it is simply the sign of good education.

I confess I have been making this mistake lately, but like any other change, a little self-discipline should take care of it.



  1. I’m not a fan of etcetera. Dude when did I use “stuff” in a formal setting?! I can imagine using it when slides speak for themselves and I have a time limit – actually probably because I didn’t prepare for a presentation; I honestly do not remember the last time I went through slides many times to prepare for a presentation!

    By the way, after the first day of the IoBM leadership conference, I am thanking God I graduated from IBA!

    1. haha no you just use ‘stuff’ generally in your everyday speech a lot and that naturally flows into the rest of your communication too..i can remember your MP presentation, although that wasn’t exactly FORMAL…

      haha what happened at zenith?

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