“So” has become the new “um,” an odd moment of pause to buy time, cough or blow your nose before you speak.
My mother and I watch “Shark Tank” frequently, and she recently pointed out that nearly every person who goes on the show asking for money and partnership from the sharks is prefacing their sentences with “so,” a conjunction that does not belong at the beginning of a sentence.
Once the glaring disfluency was identified, the credibility of all entrepreneurs committing the verbal felony was immediately diminished. No matter how cute, clever, or strong their offering, once the clumsy “so” fell out of the mouth and smacked the floor before the monologue, it was over before it started.
Taking note of the many reasons why people get written off by the sharks, some are natural “no ways” ranging from bad ideas to half-baked plans to ridiculous requests. But not once has a shark ever said, “I’m appalled by your use of the English language and for this reason, I’m out.”
I just have to ask, why not? If a candidate can be written off on personality, arrogance, greed, or lack of concern over their ability to run a company — and often they are — would one not add their command of the English language to the list?
I certainly would not want someone I’ve handed over a large sum of cash to be writing letters with omitted commas after introductory elements, missing prepositions, or lack of proper subject-verb agreement to my business contacts. Why have we allowed our language to become so lackadaisical in business? “Her and I started this company two years ago” we’ll let slide, but don’t dare show up without 12-month projections!
I see a distinct connection between the ability to form language and take a business to the next level. It’s all in the details.
While the “so”-prefaced conjunction that doesn’t belong there might not be enough to nix deals, I’m not in the shark seat — and let’s face it, who’s to say I’d do a better job and not be, oh, a bit nervous?
I wonder, are there any other “tells” in the use of language that the sharks on “Shark Tank” notice when the so-askers are speaking to them? Are there any language cues that reveal to them that the entrepreneur may not be a good partner — such as rambling, slick or sales-y tactics, or an inability to express oneself effectively entirely?
I wrote a note to each shark (also pointing out the so-prefacing in case they missed it), specifically asking if there are any “tells” they look for in language or other language cues that identify the so-askers as to whether or not they might be a good business partner. Mark Cuban and Barbara Corcoran responded.
I’ve always enjoyed my brief and succinct conversations with Cuban. He uses small words, he’s a pithy conversationalist — I appreciate the economy. As to whether or not he looks for “tells”, he says this:
“Not really. Nerves are an issue so I don’t look for tells.”
And there you have it.
Corcoran, on the other hand, had much to say on the subject:
“I don’t mind rambling speech on ‘Shark Tank,’ because very often these young entrepreneurs are Nervous Nellies and I find it remarkable enough that they’re able to stand in front of four seasoned sharks and even pitch in the first place,” Corcoran said.
“Sometimes, we listen to the entrepreneurs for a whole 30 minutes before they get their act together. But watching the process of them fighting their insecurity to stand back up is probably the most useful thing to me as a Shark. I love buying into a business with an entrepreneur who struggles with insecurity but has an overabundance of ability to bounce back under duress.
“But what I can’t stand on ‘Shark Tank’ is fancy talk — the kind of talk that every top business school is teaching people today. Entrepreneurs throw around terms like burn rate, IRR (still don’t know what that means), and scalability, and there are a few dozen more that I can never remember. What bugs me about this is the false confidence an entrepreneur has when they’re throwing these terms around, simply because they’ve “studied” entrepreneurship.
“This is always the same entrepreneur who has no chance of succeeding in the streets, because they’ve never had to hustle for a buck with their back against the wall because their parents shelter them. It’s not their fault, but one thing I’ve learned is that when I invest in a business that has fancy talk, I always lose my money.”
Here here, Barbara! And thank you. I think we all remember the episodes with the “sales talk,” and quite agree.
So, there you have it.
Paula Conway is a best-selling book author, publisher of Conway Confidential, and President of Astonish Media Group. She helps women start their dream business and learn how to break through the barriers that keep them from becoming personally, spiritually and financially free. Paula holds an M.F.A. from Columbia University and a B.A. from New York University.
For more DAILY VIEWS, The News’ contributor network, click here.