By Roz Morris, Managing Director, TV News London
Some words and phrases now frequently used in media interviews are so meaningless, sloppy and over-used that I just have to advise against using them. It is true that when you give a media interview, or give a talk or presentation to an audience, you should never be afraid to use a well-chosen cliché which summarises your message and makes it memorable. But it’s definitely not advisable to use clichés throughout and there are some currently popular words and phrases that are now counter-productive. In fact they are so clichéd that they can turn the audience against you.
Here’s a handy guide to the worst offenders.
It was about two years ago that I first noticed ‘Absolutely’. It started creeping into interviews on radio and TV and into my media training sessions when people practice their interviews as for real. At first it was relatively rare. And I advised against it. But now it’s everywhere. And I still advise against it. What does it mean? Absolutely is an adverb. So what is it absolutely that people are so absolute about? And have you noticed that some people get stuck in a groove and start to say ‘Absolutely' in all their answers ? Why not just say: ‘ I agree’ or ‘That’s a very good point’?
Use of the ‘It’s been a long/tough/emotional journey’ was bad enough before the 2012 London Olympics. It sounds so affected and self-absorbed. Like amateur psychology. Why not say: ‘It has been tough getting here’? However, with the coming of wall to wall sports interviews during the Olympics and Paralympics, the ‘journey’ really took off and was on air all day and every day. I don’t think I heard a single athlete who didn’t talk about their ‘journey’. Now I cringe every time I hear someone using this word and if you start using it in a radio or TV interview, be prepared for the audience to stop listening.
Or to put it another way AARGH!! Iconic used to mean something. In fact it used to mean something of religious significance. Now people just use it casually and meaninglessly instead of historic, or important or symbolic or ground-breaking. Sometimes they doubly offend by combining it with ‘absolutely’ as in ‘absolutely iconic’.
4/ OUR HEARTS GO OUT TO
Yes it is important to express sympathy for victims and their families when giving interviews during a crisis which involves death or injury. BUT.... This phrase was always phony. Now it’s a phony phrase that no-one believes that has been relentlessly over-used by police, hospital and company spokespeople. And it’s even worse now than it was when people first started using it because this over-use has made it seem even more false. A much more sincere and dignified way of expressing sympathy is to say: ‘We are very sorry that this accident/incident has happened and our sympathies are with the victims and their families.’ And most importantly, say it as though you mean it.
5/ OUR THOUGHTS AND PRAYERS ARE WITH
See 4/ above but even more so. Can only be used convincingly if you are Prime Minister and referring to victims of terrorism or war. Plus this is also OK if you are a vicar, priest, rabbi, imam etc.. and therefore the audience will believe that you do actually pray. Otherwise this phrase diminishes the speaker’s authority by sounding insincere and not credible.
6/ BACK IN THE DAY
This phrase has recently become increasingly popular with teenagers and young people. I always thought it was creepy old DJ speak as used by Jimmy Savile back in the day. It comes across as sloppy and code for ignorance i.e.’ I have no idea when this happened and I don’t care, but it was in old people’s time‘ (like last year).
7/ SKILL SET
An old favourite of jargon speakers everywhere. In fact is this now one word i.e. ‘skillset’? Anyway what’s wrong with ‘skills’? One tiny crumb of comfort is that it used to be worse. A few years ago I had to stop spokespeople from talking about ‘upskilling’. Luckily this seems to have faded into the obscurity it so richly deserves.
As in: ‘This is a big ask.’ Or, popular in sports interviews: ‘This is a tough ask for any manager/player’. Recently I had to restrain a spokesperson from using the phrase: ‘This is a big policy ask’. It’s not that these phrases are hard to understand, it’s just that this type of phraseology comes across in media interviews as unfeeling business jargon and it distances the speaker from the general listening/viewing audience. Here’s a thought: why not put the ‘t’ back in front of ‘ask’?
9/ AT THE END OF THE DAY
This used to be more irritating before we had the revival of ‘back in the day’. See 6/ above. Again – what does it mean? When is the end of the day? All it does is signal laziness and vagueness on the part of the speaker.
And - Yes - I have saved my personal pet hate for last.
10/ TWO TIMES
What on earth is wrong with twice?
So my advice is: Please don’t use any of these words or phrases in any public statements or media interviews – in 2013 or ever. In fact, avoid them like the norovirus. You don’t want people listening to your interviews or talks to be searching for the sick bag.
23 January 2013