Pushing Back on Cliché-Driven Presentations

January 16, 2017

Are you hearing the same tired clichés in presentations and meetings? Remove the noise from your life and push back.

We sit through a lot of meetings and webinars. Sometimes it's for continuing medical education, sometimes for a product pitch disguised as business acumen, and almost always there is a least one valuable piece of information nestled within 60 minutes of noise. So, we show up. We participate. But often our minds wander…

A little game we like to play to keep us focused during long meetings is "count the clichés." To play, we track how many times the speaker uses a cliché. Phrases like, ""Think outside the box," or "Low-hanging fruit." It's a fun way to trick yourself into paying attention and, to those in attendance, it looks like you're taking vigorous notes.

Sometimes, though, the speaker uses a term or phrase that goes beyond cliché and into red-flag territory. Phrases like, "Grow or die," or, "If you can't measure it, you can't manage it," are either simply not true or taken out of context and manipulated. These speakers are relying on phrases that sound good, but serve only to distract you from the fact the presenter has little-to-no evidence to support an argument.

Take "Grow or die," for example. We didn't have to look further than the business page of our local paper for examples of all sorts of business, including nursing home chains and compounding labs, to find examples of companies that grow AND die. In fact, their rapid, thoughtless growth is exactly why they failed. For further reading on this subject, and examples of business that have successfully never grown, we recommend this great article on CBS Money Watch.

The misquoted line that bothers us most, however, is when a speaker partially quotes economist W. Edwards Deming who wrote, "It is wrong to suppose that if you can't measure it, you can't manage it - a costly myth." By leaving out half of the 18 words in the complete quote, and saying, "If you can't measure it, you can't manage it," the speaker is saying something quite different and potentially quite harmful. Robert A. Berenson, physician and institute fellow at the Urban Institute., said it much better than we ever could. We recommend reading his piece for JAMA here.

So, the next time some speaker tries to make a point by utilizing a sad cliché or by shouting something that simply isn't true, take it upon yourself to push back with evidence. Perhaps them we can remove more noise from our lives leaving us with far more value.