Common Spelling and Grammar Errors: Don’t Lose Your Credibility

Are you a grammar stickler? Does it grate on your nerves every time you hear “nuclear” mispronounced in the style of George W. Bush? Does the abuse of “literally” make you figuratively want to rip someone’s tongue out? Do your eyes roll whenever you hear someone proclaim they “could care less“?

I’m one of those people. This morning I heard Matt Lauer talking about how topping-out the spire of One World Trade Center today was “an historic event.” It annoyed me so much that I briefly thought about writing him an email explaining that the only instance in which it is ever okay to say “an historical” is if you have a cockney accent and don’t pronounce the “h.” Go crazy saying “an ‘istorical” all you want. But never “an historical.” I actually do send messages like that from time to time. Sadly, I never get a televised correction. Or, actually, any response at all.

I’ve noticed my teacher friends passing around this video of common spelling and grammar mistakes over the last couple of days. We’re clearly enjoying it, but the problem is that we aren’t the people who need these tips. And the people who do either don’t know that they have a problem or they don’t care.

But if you’re not interested in spelling and grammar, you probably should be. Especially if you ever have to present to an audience. Here’s the thing. Even if you’re not a grammar stickler, chance are high that some of the people you’re speaking to are. And we’ll sit there judging you. Make enough mistakes–or just one really bad one–and we might decide you don’t have any credibility and stop paying attention to you. Spelling and grammar mistakes are especially bad if you use slides and project your errors for everyone to see, then distribute them as handouts. I’ve sat through some presentations that I only recall because of the typos, which is not how you want your talks to be remembered.

If you want to seem authoritative and maintain your credibility with an audience, take the time to get your words right. It’s a great idea to have someone else double-check your work, especially when the stakes are high. There’s no shame in asking for a little help. I taught writing for years and I still like to have another set of eyes look at my writing whenever I can. It can mean the difference between being taken seriously and being ignored, or worse.

(I sure hope there are no typos in this post. Those spelling and grammar people can be mean.)

38 Common Spelling and Grammar Errors

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Presentation Tips: Be Yourself

Whatever kind of presentation you find yourself doing, it’s critical that you engage your audience and find a way to relate to them. But that doesn’t mean that you should pander or pretend to be something you’re not. Audiences are very good at detecting insincerity and are as unlikely to be swayed by an inauthentic performance as they are by Jason Sudeikis as Mitt Romney in this Saturday Night Live skit. They may not shout “we don’t believe you,” but they’ll probably be thinking it.

Remember to be yourself, but the best version of yourself possible.

He Used to Speak for the Trees. Now He’s Selling Truffula Pancakes at IHOP.

Now He Speaks for Denny's

Now He Speaks for IHOP

Whatever idea you are representing as a public speaker, it’s critical that you behave in a manner consistent with your message. If you’re preaching family values it’s a bad idea to have a second family stashed away somewhere. And if you’re telling your employees you’re imposing an austerity program and you’ll have to cut back on their benefits, it’s a bad idea to arrive at the office in a limo every morning. Saying one thing and doing another can destroy your credibility and make it impossible for you to be an effective advocate.

Which is why it’s so disturbing to see Dr. Seuss’s Lorax, that icon of 70’s environmentalism, being used to sell kids’ meals at IHOP. After all, the Lorax and his fight to save the Truffula trees is often the first conservation message children hear. Now, as part of a tie-in with a Lorax movie, IHOP is offering Green Eggs, Ham (possibly from one of those exploding factory pig farms), and Truffula Chip Pancakes. Having never encountered a Truffula chip before, I have to assume that it’s a byproduct of logging and milling all of those Truffula trees, kind of like the redwood mulch that I use in my garden.

I know that these big movies depend on licensing deals in order to be profitable, but it’s hard to understand how this one came to pass, though I suppose there is only so much money to be made in children’s bedsheets and promoting “energy-efficient” cars. But this seems especially strange since the estate of Dr. Seuss used to be known for being so protective of his legacy. It’s a bit like Al Gore opening a Hummer dealership.

Remember that any time you’re speaking to a group it’s your job to persuade them. As the face or voice of your message, it’s crucial that your actions match your words. If you’re going to speak for the trees, you probably shouldn’t appear to be selling them out. Even if, as my five year-old nephew Felix suspects, Truffula chips are really just donut sprinkles.

Once you’ve lost your credibility, it’s really hard to earn it back.