Actually… Don’t Use that Word

by Doug Zanes | Last Updated: May 7, 2015

Actually… Don’t Use that Word

Which word?

That word…


According to a joint article by Time Magazine and Inc. Magazine the word “actually” is the one word that can immediately kill credibility in many sales meetings and corporate meetings in general.

In fact, the writer of the article, Eric Holtzclaw,  a tenured meeting attendee admits that after thousands of interviews with consumers about how they use different products and services and respond to market messages, he has “honed the craft of ferreting out telltale signs of lies and omissions.”

“For the experienced listener, “actually” is a dead giveaway of an area that at the least needs to be further investigated, and may point at a deception,” Holtzclaw warns.

Here’s how he explains it:

“When you use the word “actually” properly, you are comparing two thoughts and providing clarification.

For example:

Question: “Did you go to the store for milk?”

Answer: “Actually, I stopped at a gas station.”

In this example, it is easy to see why someone might use the word . The original question suggested that you went to the store, but you might not think that a gas station is really a store. In your mind, you are comparing and justifying the decision to stop at a gas station rather than a grocery store.”

Pretty interesting right? Then Holtzclaw takes us back to a business setting for a more relating example:

“Extra words used in a sales presentation or investor pitch are unnecessary. They subconsciously point listeners to question if there’s more unspoken information. The word “actually” serves as a spoken pause, giving the presenter’s brain time to catch up and decide how to resolve the conflict in their mind between the question asked and reality.”

Holtzclaw uses a common example of a sales presentation or an investor pitch to stress his point:

Question: “How many customers are using the platform?”

Answer: “We actually have over 100 companies.”

Holtzclaw says the word “actually” isn’t important to the answer. It’s extra information that makes the listener curious as to why the word was added.

In fact, an astute investor or customer will follow up with a request to see a customer list or to get a customer referral.

In a customer interview, Holtzclaw uses this example:

Question: “Do you use this product?”

Answer: “Actually, I have.”

Again to the experienced listener, this answer actually (get it? Ha!) means, “No, I have never used it” or “I used it once and it didn’t do what I expected or needed.”

According to Holtzclaw, “an appropriate follow-up is to ask for a specific example or time that the function was used.”

So what are we trying to emphasize here?


Don’t use the word “actually” unless you actually need it!

Do you have another positive or negative buzzword that we should or should not be using in a professional setting?

Let us know in the comments below -We’d love to hear your thoughts and insight on this!


Doug Zanes: Founding Attorney Raised in Douglas, Arizona, and went to college at Arizona State University and graduated from law school at St. Mary’s University School of Law in Texas. Doug began practicing law in Phoenix Arizona in 1997.
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