A periodic feature of this blog is pointing out popularly overused speech mannerisms. Usually I concentrate on "filler words" - Things that get inserted into the course of speech without the speaker realizing it. Here are some of the Greatest Hits collection I have commented upon:
This completely ignores the ones we all know and hate… Y'know, Like, Umm, Uhh. I'm not going to add value by supplementing the body of commentary already available on the internet for these classic standards.
But lately I have noticed a new word creeping into widespread overuse: "Gotcha."
Gotcha is typically employed as a confirmation to a speaker who has answered a question or made a factual point. It is usually spoken by a discussion moderator as a way of acknowledging the other person's contribution:
"When should we expect to see the next release?"
"I don't like to make an exact date promise, but it should come out by the end of next quarter."
"Gotcha. And what are the main features?"
As with every other speech mannerism, there is nothing wrong with occasional usage. Audiences would much rather hear you speak naturally and conversationally than listen to you self-consciously stumble as you attempt to eliminate every "bad word" in your lexicon. Gotcha is like any other item in this list… It only becomes a problem when it becomes a crutch, getting repeated unconsciously to the point where it becomes a distraction. If your audience starts listening to how you speak instead of to what you are saying, you have a problem.
As with all such speech mannerisms, if you overuse this word, you don't realize it. Our brains are tremendously adept at filtering our own distractions. Don't believe me? Close one eye. Notice that you can see a bit of your own nose? Close the other eye. You can see your nose with that one as well. So where does it go when both eyes are open? Your eyes capture the image, but your brain filters it out as always present and not worth processing.
The same thing happens with our speech. Your ears pick up the audio vibrations of the word, but your brain filters it out as unimportant and not worth processing. You need feedback from a trusted colleague (or brutally honest webinar attendees) to point out the habit that distracts them from your message. Most people are polite and won't "attack you" by mentioning your idiosyncrasy. So it is very important to listen when somebody does provide such feedback. If one person mentions it, many more have probably noticed it.
The path to fixing overuse of a phrase is difficult. It starts with getting your brain to stop the automatic filtering. My favorite technique is to tap a finger against my leg every time I hear myself or another speaker using the target phrase. This activates voluntary muscle control and brings another sense into play. The brain can no longer filter based only on sound processing. As you notice the touch sensation and recognize how often you are tapping your finger, you start hearing yourself saying the word again and can act to stop yourself before you say it the next time.
As you begin to eliminate your overuse, you go through a period of time where you are unable to speak as smoothly as you had been doing. You are removing a crutch… a support mechanism that you hadn't realized you were depending upon. Allow yourself the relearning process. Take the pause. Think about what you want to say next and how you will formulate it. You will move through the uncomfortable stage and emerge on the other side with a better presentation style.
By the way, this is a continuous process. When you get rid of one mannerism, another often emerges. You should check in every so often with your trusted sources to see if you have developed any new traits you aren't recognizing.