First impressions are everything. They can make or break an important job interview, butterfly-inducing first date, or valuable networking opportunity. One of the first things people notice about us is the way we talk and our word choice. Words are powerful and they can affect how your ideas or personality is received. In some situations, words can get in the way of effective communication. Although these verbal crutches may seem irrelevant to you, they’re actually making you look less confident and knowledgeable. The first step in becoming more compelling with your words is knowing which ones are holding you back. Here are a few ways you can sound smarter and more assertive by switching up your vocabulary.

Nix the negative self-talk

If you want to be an effective communicator, avoid the words “I can’t” at all costs. When you say you can’t do something, you’re basically robbing yourself of your own autonomy. You appear powerless, and this is because “can’t” is a passive word. Many people are inaccurate when they say these things, too. In reality, you can do a lot, you just choose not to. What’s more, saying that you can’t do something can even affect how you behave in the future. This is because the word can’t is so limiting, you may actually start to believe you’re incapable of doing even the simplest tasks. Instead, be more active in your word choice. Swapping “I can’t” for phrases such as “I won’t,” “I don’t,” and “I choose not to” is an easy way to tell your audience you make your own choices. It won’t be long until you start believing more in yourself, too.

Another phrase to stay away from as much as possible is “I don’t know.” Sure, it’s totally acceptable to admit you may not know the answer to something. However, these words are often interpreted as an easy out. Take a more active approach by nixing “I don’t know” from your vocabulary and replacing it with responses such as “I’m learning,” “I’m uncertain,” or “I’ll find out.” By exchanging your vocabulary with these phrases, you tell your audience that you are looking for an answer instead of settling with not knowing. This can make an impressive impact on your managers or bosses, who will take note of your willingness to find the answer.

Ditch the fillers

When some people talk, they can’t help but use fillers. Words such as “um,” “like,” and “ah” can give your audience – whether it be an acquaintance or a manager – a sense that you don’t quite know what you’re talking about. What’s more, these filler words can be quite distracting. So, while you may have spent hours prepping a presentation, all that valuable information will be lost on your audience as they start to count just how many times you’ve said “like” while giving your speech. Instead, try to slow down when you talk. This will help you focus on taking brief pauses when you speak in place of filler words. Pausing while speaking will take some time to perfect, especially if you have been using filler words your whole life. With enough practice, you’ll start to appear more poised and thoughtful while speaking with pauses. This will show your audience you are knowledgeable and informed on the topic at hand. If you get overwhelmed while practicing your pauses, just take a deep breath and remember you’ve got what it takes to be a skilled communicator. Although these simple vocabulary swaps may take some effort to utilize, it’ll be well worth the energy. You’ll appear more confident, knowledgable, and capable when speaking to others.