Excerpted from Inc. Magazine, this article by Eric V. Holtzclaw is essential reading for anyone that stands up in front of a group and makes a presentation. I have watched more salespeople and companies pitch their ideas over the years than I care to count. And during thousands of interviews with consumers about how they use different products and services and respond to marketing messages, I have honed the craft of ferreting out telltale signs of lies and omissions.
From that experience, I am going to let you in on a little secret about a word you should stop using immediately.
It is "actually."
For the experienced listener, "actually" is a dead giveaway of an area that at the least needs to be further investigated, and may point at a deception.
Let me explain. When you use the word "actually" properly, you are comparing two thoughts and providing clarification.
Question: "Did you go to the store for milk?"
Answer: "Actually, I stopped at a gas station."
In this example, it is easy to see why someone might use the word . The original question suggested that you went to the store, but you might not think that a gas station is really a store. In your mind, you are comparing and justifying the decision to stop at a gas station rather than a grocery store.
Back to the business setting: Extra words used in a sales presentation or investor pitch are unnecessary. They subconsciously point listeners to question if there's more unspoken information. The word "actually" serves as a spoken pause, giving the presenter's brain time to catch up and decide how to resolve the conflict in their mind between the question asked and reality.
A common example of how this plays out in a sales presentation or investor pitch:
Question: "How many customers are using the platform?"
Answer: "We actually have over 100 companies."
The word "actually" isn't important to the answer. It's extra information that makes the listener curious as to why the word was added. An astute investor or customer will follow up with a request to see a customer list or to get a customer referral.
In a customer interview, the customer may use the word as a way to please the person asking the question:
Question: "Do you use this product?"
Answer: "Actually, I have."
To the experienced listener, this answer actually (get it?) means, "No, I have never used it" or "I used it once and it didn't do what I expected or needed." An appropriate follow-up is to ask for a specific example or time that the function was used.
Perfecting your pitch requires attention to what you say and removing anything that distracts them from your primary message. As a listener, keying in on the word "actually" can clue you in to the subconscious and give you a competitive edge.