So, What’s the Problem with “So?”
The other day I saw a CEO interviewed live on CNBC. He started almost every answer with “so,” which was rather distracting. That reminded me of a recent CEO keynote I watched. He also used “so” far more than appropriate. So, what’s up? “So,” it seems, has become as over-used in business as “solutions.” It’s become such a topic that at least one linguist wrote a dissertation on it. She confirmed that its use (over-use I suggest) has grown during the last forty years. Fast Company, USA Today and Slate have all written about the trend. The BBC went further and suggested banning “so.”
There’s nothing wrong with this little word when used properly and effectively. The problem is that it’s being misused and abused. “So” has become the new “uh-huh,” “um,” “ya know” and “like.” All add nothing to communication, merely getting in the way of the message and weakening the speakers’ credibility.
Some people argue that “so” is increasingly prominent because it’s trendy. Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg is famous for uttering it. Having coached hundreds of leaders and communicators, I rarely find “so” written in their speeches and talking points. They tend to blurt it out when they don’t know what to say next. It’s a time-filler, uttered while they compose a thought, often because they are unprepared. Or it’s merely a bad habit.
So, what to do? (By the way, it’s used here as a technique to more dramatically set up a rhetorical question and transition from the problem to the fix.) Record your speech and interview practice sessions and listen for “so” and other fillers, such as “um.” Once you know you are using “so” and other “non-words,” you’ll be able to avoid them. If, in the middle of a speech or interview, you feel a “so” coming on, just be silent for a moment. What may seem like a millennium to you will be nothing more than a dramatic pause to your audience or the reporter. Of course, the best way to avoid stumbling though a talk or interview is to be prepared.
Calling in a professional coach isn’t a bad idea, either.