Communication Skills, Leadership

6 Language Tips To Help You Communicate Effectively With High-Performing Teams

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How many times as this happened to you? You’re sitting in a routine team meeting discussing a range of business topics, and your mind starts to drift… Suddenly, a team member turns to you and says, “So, do you agree?” and you realise you have unintentionally zoned out and are unable to engage by either agreeing or not agreeing.

We’ve all been there – and, whether you know it or not, you’ve also likely been the communicator who has inadvertently caused employees around you to switch off, too. This is, of course, less than ideal – after all, how can you expect to be an effective leader of a high-performing team if your team members aren’t paying attention to what you’re saying?

So what causes employees to tune out and disengage in those moments?

A lot of the time it comes down to language use, as I explain in this short video:

To give a quick summary: poor, bland language – or what I like to call ‘the language of convention’ – has no power when it comes to cutting through that work stupor and keeping an audience engaged. This goes doubly for high-performing teams, who are juggling competing priorities and are often preparing for the next item on their to-do list whilst completing a current task. In order to engage team members and keep them in the present moment, what you need is engaging language that is fresh, has zest, and is full of vitality. In short, it’s about being “unconventional”.

Now, don’t get me wrong – it’s not about being unconventional just for the sake of it. You still need to be thoughtful and considerate about how you use language to both communicate your message clearly and keep your audience’s focus.

To help, here are 6 quick-fire tips to help you capture and hold attention so you can communicate more effectively with a high-performing team

1. Start with a bang, not a whimper

Your opening line is a golden opportunity to engage your audience right from the word go. Just jump straight into the topic, inject an element of surprise, humour and/or intrigue, and you’ll have high-performing teams engaged and fully focused, wondering what you’re going to say next. If you want see how the pros do it, TED Talks can be a great resource.

2. Stay away from -ly words

Any good writer knows that -ly adverbs should be used sparingly, if at all, and the same goes when you’re presenting. You might think words like “absolutely”, “definitely” and “actually” are helping you emphasise your points, but all they do is fill in the gaps and weaken your overall message. You’ll be surprised how much more powerful and precise you’ll sound just by eliminating these words. Sometimes a simple “yes” will suffice.

3. Avoid jargon where possible

While jargon can be useful shorthand in some situations, most of the time all it does is alienate anyone in your audience who might not understand the technical terms. Always try to use the simplest phrases where possible – this will make your audience feel included and get your message across far more effectively.

4. “Think outside the box” when it comes to cliches

We’ve all heard those same old cliches being thrown around the office: “Let’s give it a 110%”; “It’s a real paradigm shift”; “Going forward, we need to…”. These phrases have become so meaningless, you can practically see your team members eyes glaze over as soon as these words leave your lips. Next time a cliche pops into your head, try replacing it with another, more inventive (or even simpler) way of saying what you mean.

5. Use language in ways that surprise and delight

You might not think there’s a way to make a financial report interesting, but with just a little creativity, and some inventive use of language, whether it’s a gorgeous metaphor or a witty simile (think Nick ‘Honey Badger’ Cummins infamous line “I was busier than a one-armed bricklayer in Baghdad”), you’ll have your audience hanging on to hear the whole conversation.

6. Employ the ‘moth effect’

If a moth flies behind someone’s head while they’re talking, everyone is going to look at the moth, right? The fact that it is moving and being unpredictable is what draws focus towards it. Well, I say, be the moth! Move intentionally and, every so often, expectedly, and your audience won’t be able to look away.

I know it may be difficult at first to break some of these bad language habits you may have developed over time, but with consciousness and practice, you’ll be a language maestro in no time. Why not start by practicing just one of these skills today? For example, can you go the whole day without saying “absolutely” or “definitely”, and instead just say “yes”? Give it a go, and tell us how you went in the comments.

These quick-fire tips not only help you engage and motivate a high-performing team on a day-to-day basis, they are also useful when preparing for meetings, networking events and presentations.

Want more great tips on how to give a truly memorable presentation? Our free ebook 6 keys to building a memorable presentation will tell you how to use your voice and body, how to ditch the slides completely, and even more. Download it now!


The Colin James Method® Facilitators train corporate executives to improve their professional development with a proven methodology. Our highly trained Facilitators and Coaches are recognised for their experience in their fields and have worked with many individuals and organisations around the world to master the art of communication.

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