Shoulda, Woulda, Coulda

casual contractions in presentation

by Sarah Maloney

Howsitgoin? Wanna grabba cuppa coffee? Have you heard colleagues speak this way? Have you spoken this way? Probably, we all have. Let’s step back for a moment and ask ourselves: what is our first impression of the speaker? Let’s put these casual contractions under a corporate magnifying glass.

As communication skills consultants, we work consistently with our learners to help them improve their professional images through their business communications. If you are worried that your business communication is not as good as you would like, and you would prefer to not talk to a client face to face, then you could consider using something like these ringless voicemail drops. This is something that means that you can pre-record your message and place it in your clients voicemail without having to speak to them directly first. This might be a solution to people who have problems with communications. Recently, we’ve noticed that many of our learners are sabotaging their professional images when delivering presentations by using “informal contractions”.

We aren’t talking about contractions like “don’t” for do not or “we’ll” for we will. When you use a few of these contractions in your speech or your writing, you sound quite personable. However, some contractions can make you sound sloppy and unprofessional—like these examples:

  • Gonna instead of “going to”
  • Shoulda instead of “should have”
  • Woulda instead of “would have”
  • Coulda instead of “could have”
  • Wanna instead of “want to”
  • Dunno instead of “don’t know”
  • Howsitgoin? instead of “how is it going?”
  • Grabba instead of “grab a” or “get”
  • Cuppa instead of “cup of”

What image do you present if you regularly use these informal contractions during a presentation, meeting or business interview? Although these informal contractions may be acceptable in informal settings with your friends and your colleagues, they may damage your professional image in business settings. Say some of the words out loud: woulda, shoulda, coulda, gonna, wanna, dunno. How do they sound—professional or a bit too casual?

Almost everyone allows these informal contractions to slip into their speech sometimes. We never use these informal contractions in our writing, so why do we use them in our presentations? That’s easy to answer! We use them because they slide off our tongue so easily. They are part of our communication habits. Enunciating the full phrase takes more focus, concentration and work.

Another thing to keep in mind is that not everyone has the same first language nor the same life experiences. One of our jobs as business communicators is to build communication bridges and understanding between people. We need to be helpful to our listeners and enunciate clearly so that everyone understands our messages.

Consider this old saying, “Anything worth doing is worth doing well”. Listen to yourself and see how many times you use these poorly enunciated informal contractions. Listen to your colleagues too and see how often they use them. You be the judge; which approach is more professional?

Do you want to sound professional when you deliver a business presentation? Take Wavelength’s advice and make a conscious choice to enunciate! Learn more about our presentation skills workshops here.

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