Another DEMO 'No, No': The phrase "going forward…"

Lucy Kellaway is a columnist for the Financial Times and the workplace commentator for BBC Radio’s daily Business Brief, where she serially kvetches about poor business jargon and why you should never use it.

Tonight I caught her hilarious take on our latest “lethal” and “horrid phrase:”
Going forward!

With DEMO 2008 on this week, we’ve had several posts on the virtues of public speaking, how to improve your company presentations, and what to say (or not) to would-be investors. So, I thought you ought to consider to Lucy’s take on why “going forward…” is a phrase that will only set you back.

The first trouble with the phrase is that it’s almost always redundant. The sentence means exactly the same thing without it. If, on occasion, there is a need to spell out the idea of the future, we have some perfectly good words already. For pompous people there is “henceforth,” and for the rest of us there’s “in the future.” The second trouble is that “going forward” seems to gesture confidently toward the future but is utterly vague on timing…

Vagueness we know, is the cardinal sin of poor public speaking. But she continues…

What makes “going forward” so lethal is the way it clings to the tongue of the speaker so that it is uttered again, and again. It has become a Tourette’s syndrome for people… it’s not only infectious but constantly mutating into new, ugly forms.

Some of the abhorrent derivatives you’ll also want to avoid are:

* “the way forward”

* “on a go forward basis”

and my personal favorite — which I just know I’ve heard a VC say at least once…

* “going forward, we give feedback at every milestone”

This last concoction is where “going forward” is used as a tense modifier by people who (apparently) can’t grasp a sense of time or place at all and, therefore, stick the future tense phrase in at the beginning, but then carry on speaking in the present tense.

“If ‘going forward’ does serve a purpose at all,” concludes Lucy, “it is a signal that the listener can switch off without missing anything.” Ouch. Click here to listen to the whole piece. It is 9 minutes long, but it will be time well spent on a… um, go forward basis! (Did i say that?!)