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Updated Dec 08, 2023

5 Highly Effective Words for Business Meetings

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Adam Uzialko, Business Strategy Insider and Senior Editor
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Meetings don’t have to be a drag, especially when you know the right words and phrases to use to hook your audience — and which ones to avoid. Avoiding meaningless buzzwords and communicating clearly with the right terms that elicit positive reactions from your audience can make for a more effective meeting. They can also boost your personal brand by establishing yourself as a thoughtful leader and effective communicator. Here’s a guide to effective words and how to use them.

Effective words to use in a business meeting

Words matter, sometimes more than we realize. One place where that’s definitely true is during a business meeting. Forget about presentation skills, handshakes and power suits; the secret to succeeding in a business meeting is what you say. 

In fact, researchers at MIT analyzed business meetings and audience responses to certain words and phrases to determine which are most effective. Here are some of the findings:

  • The words “yeah,” “give,” “start,” “meeting” and “discuss” have a larger impact than others.
  • Using these words effectively can result in success.
  • A data-driven approach to meeting analysis produced this list of five power words.
  • These words need to be used in the right way and at the right time.
  • Using power words in the opening of a meeting grabs the attention and focus of attendees.
  • Refocus attention in business meetings with essential words that help change the topic of discussion.
  • Closing a meeting with positive words prompts a positive response.

For the research, then-MIT professor Cynthia Rudin (now at Duke University) and then-MIT student Been Kim (now at Google DeepMind) examined data from several business meetings and pinpointed specific words that appeared to have a big impact. More than 11 million business meetings take place daily around the world, so learning which words affect the productivity and outcome of those meetings can help companies change the course of their success, Rudin and Kim said.

The study of meetings is complex, as it’s challenging to understand social signals and complex interpersonal dynamics. But Rudin and Kim’s research was unique because it was one of the first studies to use a data-driven approach to meeting analysis. Using hypothesis tests and predictive modeling, they created a list of five words that demonstrated high persuasiveness and often led to a desired response.

Want to improve the way your client meetings work? Check out our business etiquette tips for client meetings to make sure you deliver an impressive performance.

Other effective approaches to meetings

There are several reasons why the words “yeah,” “give,” “start,” “meeting” and “discuss” hold so much sway at business meetings. The word “yeah,” for example, shows acceptance of, or agreement with, a point of view. Here are some other tips gleaned from the study.

Avoid insincere compliments.

The researchers also found that compliments given at meetings did not always have the intended effect. In the study, compliments that were used to offset negative comments in a meeting were often viewed as disingenuous.

Use decision-signaling words.

The researchers also studied words that signal an imminent decision, to reveal insight into the decision-making process. They determined that when employees offer suggestions or requests for information, they expect a decision.

“This would be useful when listening to a previously recorded meeting and you want to fast-forward to the key decision,” Rudin said. “Or, it might help managers be more efficient if they could be automatically alerted to join a meeting when a decision is about to be made.”

When should you use power words?

To use these words effectively, you need to know how and when to sprinkle them into the conversation. The study outlined the effect of each word during various parts of a meeting. Check out this summary to discover the most powerful time to use certain words and communication tactics.

Opening the meeting

The opening of the meeting is a perfect time to begin using these five words. In this part of the meeting, these words grab attendees’ attention and focus.

For example, the word “yeah” indicates agreement or acceptance. When used in the opening of a business meeting, it can demonstrate your commitment to the topic as well as the need for the meeting. If you use “yeah” at a change of topic, however, others may see it as concurrence with the need to move on or as a dismissal of the previous topic. At the end of the meeting, “yeah” may establish your desire for the meeting to end.

By throwing the word “start” into your opening statements, you grab attendees’ attention. It lets everyone know the time for waiting and chitchat is over and indicates they should begin actively listening, as the business of the moment is about to proceed.

Similarly, the word “give” focuses everyone’s attention on the speaker. By using this word in the opening of a meeting or when introducing each new speaker, you trigger subconscious excitement over being awarded something valuable.

When “meeting” is added to the opening, it demonstrates the tone the conversation will take. It indicates this won’t be a casual conversation but a discussion usually about a specific topic.

Using “discuss” in an opening statement invites attendees to contribute to the discussion. People pay more attention when they feel they are included. Calling any communication within a meeting a “discussion” creates a camaraderie that makes it more likely that everyone will feel welcome to add their own views.

Changing the subject

When it’s time to transition to the next topic, it can sometimes be difficult to get others to change gears. By using these five words, you can help ease people through that transition.

The word “yeah” can help you segue. Agreeing with what is being said about the previous topic captures attention. You can then use that agreement to move on to the next topic. For example, “Yeah, that’s a great point. It reminds me of the issue we’re having with … “

“Start” is also a great word for changing the subject. It literally tells listeners that something new is beginning.

Sometimes, meetings can veer off topic and need to be redirected. Using the word “meeting” can do just that. For example, saying, “Maybe this is something for the next meeting,” is a fantastic way to gently change the topic. The study indicated that this kind of gentle redirection was well received every time a speaker employed it.

Closing the meeting

At the end of the meeting, using the right words can ensure you receive a warm reception — and, ultimately, approval — of your proposals. The study found that using the five essential words at this stage usually resulted in the approval of a proposal.

There is a psychological element at work when you use the positive words “yeah,” “start” and “give” at this stage of a business meeting. Phrasing your conclusion as though your proposal has already been accepted often prompts a reciprocal response.

Using these five highly effective words in a business meeting may not ensure success, but it makes it much more likely. These researchers’ unique approach provides valuable advice for any business meeting.

Buzzwords to avoid in a business meeting

Just as some words and phrases can improve your performance during a meeting, certain buzzwords can turn your audience off. These words, like “synergy,” seem to make everyone in the room cringe. Most are overused or don’t communicate anything specific, so audiences get used to tuning them out as filler words or jargon. Check out our list of business buzzwords to avoid to help improve your communication style.

In fact, buzzwords can hold you back in places other than business meetings. When you’re communicating online, you should also avoid relying on a tired or ineffective vocabulary. These LinkedIn buzzwords to avoid can help prevent you from sounding inauthentic or goofy when trying to connect with your peers and expand your network. This advice isn’t limited to LinkedIn; consider this list for all digital channels.

Words matter, so choose wisely

The vocabulary you use communicates more than just the definitions of the words. Choosing a certain vernacular and sticking to it can impart a sense of your character on your audience as well. If you want to stand out as a thoughtful individual with a rich and unique perspective, then your vocabulary should demonstrate that. When you think about your communication style, read between the lines and ask yourself what broader message your words are conveying. Doing so could improve the quality of your meetings and the way you’re perceived in your professional life.

Jacob Bierer-Nielsen contributed to this article.

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Adam Uzialko, Business Strategy Insider and Senior Editor
Adam Uzialko, senior editor of Business News Daily, is not just a professional writer and editor — he’s also an entrepreneur who knows firsthand what it’s like building a business from scratch. His experience as co-founder and managing editor of a digital marketing company imbues his work at Business News Daily with a perspective grounded in the realities of running a small business. Since 2015, Adam has reviewed hundreds of small business products and services, including contact center solutions, email marketing software and text message marketing software. Adam uses the products, interviews users and talks directly to the companies that make the products and services he covers. He specializes in digital marketing topics, with a focus on content marketing, editorial strategy and managing a team.
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