If you want to succeed in the world of business, English is a very important language to know, especially in today’s connected world.
To get you started in the global English language, it is a good idea to know some important business English phrases.
And you can learn 90 of them in this post!
- How to Improve Business English Speaking Skills
- Tips for Speaking in Business Conference Calls
- Sounding Authentic: 15 Business English Phrases for All Occasions
- Back to the drawing board
- Get the ball rolling
- A ballpark number / figure / estimate
- To learn the ropes
- A win-win situation
- To think outside the box
- Hit the ground running
- To pencil it in
- To brainstorm an idea
- Get up to speed
- To keep an eye on the ball
- Word of mouth
- To touch base
- On the same page
- To cut corners
- Doing Business: 49 Phrases for Conference Calls and Zoom Calls
- Giving a Presentation: 22 Expressions for an Excellent Presentation
- Negotiating Successfully: 4 Phrases to Get the Best Deal
How to Improve Business English Speaking Skills
This post will get you started with 90 business English phrases. But they will not be useful to you if you do not actually use them! And 90 might seem like a lot, but you will actually want to learn even more phrases for different situations.
How can you work on your speaking skills and learn new business English phrases at the same time?
There are tons of ways to improve your English speaking skills for business situations. The key is to always keep practicing—and to find the perfect resources for your business purposes!
- Listen to podcasts. There are many podcasts made for business English learners.
This series of podcasts from the British Council, for example, will help you to improve your English in your workplace. They are suitable (appropriate) for learners at an intermediate or advanced level.
- Listen to English speakers. Pay attention to every native speaker you encounter. When answering a question they ask you, listen carefully to their choice of words and try to use those same words in your answer.
- Practice with real business English videos on FluentU.
- Read, read, read! The more you read, the more new words and phrases you will learn. Here are some suggestions:
- Uptick from Forbes is for more advanced business English learners. The articles are written for and by native speakers, so the language is very current and focused on business.
- Business Wire is a Canadian online magazine that operates as a business news and press release network. They cover an incredible range of business sectors (areas) so the language varies a great deal.
- The English Learning Blog is a wonderful list that includes free e-books you can download to improve your general English skills.
- Focus on common phrases with multiple applications. For example, short phrases such as “I’m sorry” can be used in a number of different business scenarios. For example: “I’m sorry I’m late to the meeting,” “I’m sorry, I didn’t quite catch that,” “I’m sorry, but I disagree” and so on.
Tips for Speaking in Business Conference Calls
Skype. Face Time. Tinychat. Google Talk. Zoom. The list goes on and on. If you are in business, it is almost certain that you will use one or more of these tools. These programs are used in business for person-to-person calls, interviews, conference calls, instant messaging or recording audio files.
Before discussing phrases you can use during conference calls, let’s talk a little bit more about what you should expect.
First, it is always a good idea to learn the software you will be using beforehand. Your conference call will go a lot smoother with just a little preparation before you start. Get on the software and learn where all the key features are. Try a test call to see how things go.
Talk with a friend at work and look at the agenda together (there should be one—if there is not, ask for one). The agenda is a document that will list the topics of the upcoming meeting. You will be able to ask your work friend about the words you do not understand and practice using them.
Use the mute button if you are not speaking while on an audio conference call. It is more polite and business-like, and can give you time to really listen and think about what people are saying.
If you are on a video conference call, look interested and nod your head when appropriate. It can be a bit strange at first, but try to be as engaged (involved) as possible and to be natural and friendly.
The British Council has some fabulous resources for practicing your conference call skills.
Some native speakers may use complicated idioms during conference calls. If you feel confident enough to “dive in,” join in and give it a try too. However, remember that a plain-spoken approach with fewer idioms will get your point across more clearly during a business call.
Sounding Authentic: 15 Business English Phrases for All Occasions
Back to the drawing board
To go back to the drawing board means to start over, and to look at a failed idea in a new way. You can also this phrase when you need to rethink a decision.
This expression is commonly used to motivate a team of employees to rework a failure. To help with this expression, you can imagine a group of employees removing a failed design from a chalkboard and drawing a new idea. You can imagine that they are starting again by going back to the drawing board!
- “We didn’t sell any units of our new product.”
“OK, let’s go back to the drawing board and design a new one.”
Get the ball rolling
This phrase means to start a new project or business activity.
It can also be used to describe a small action that leads to the beginning of something. This usually starts with one person. For example, a person can get the ball rolling by doing a small task that will eventually become part of a bigger project.
- “For our meeting today, Kate will get the ball rolling by talking about our budget goals for this quarter.”
A ballpark number / figure / estimate
This phrase, like many other business expressions, is related to sports. The ballpark is the sports ground or stadium where baseball is played.
Giving a ballpark figure means giving an estimate of the value, time or number of something. It is used when the specific amount or number is not yet known or agreed upon but an estimate is required.
A ballpark is very large! So, this expression is specifically used for giving a very rough estimate or a large range in value.
- “To give you a ballpark figure, the new project will take between one and three months to complete.”
To learn the ropes
Imagine that you are on an old-fashioned sailboat. The first thing you would learn is how to tie knots and work the sails. In other words, you would learn how all the ropes work! That is what this phrase is referring to.
To learn the ropes means to learn how to do your job or a particular task, especially if you have no prior experience. Because of this, it is commonly used when referring to new employees in training.
If you change it to say “to teach someone the ropes,” you can use it to describe a boss or more senior person helping a new employee understand their role and responsibilities.
- “Hey Paul, how’s your new job?”
“It’s great but I’ve only been there for two weeks so I’m still learning the ropes.“
- “I’ve got a great manager who’s been teaching me the ropes, so I’m learning quickly!”
A win-win situation
You might hear that something is a win-win situation, or that something is win-win in both business and regular English. The phrase describes a situation where everybody involved in the event or deal benefits from the outcome.
In business, it is often used during negotiations or trades, where both parties receive something that they need from the other.
- “The deal is simple, we give them office space and they give us the new equipment that we need.”
“It sounds like a win-win situation to me!”
To think outside the box
To think outside the box means to think in a creative way that is not typical or traditional. You can use this expression in business when you are talking about ideas.
If someone tells you to think outside the box, then they are telling you to think of a creative solution or idea that may be unexpected or not obvious.
You can imagine the “box” as a traditional and obvious solution and outside the box as a more creative or abstract solution.
- “For our new advertising campaign, we really had to think outside of the box to come up with something that hadn’t been done before.”
Hit the ground running
To hit the ground running is to begin a task or project with lots of energy and enthusiasm. The expression is commonly used when talking about a new project or idea that requires immediate, fast and lively action.
It is also used when talking about taking advantage of an opportunity.
- “We really need to hit the ground running with this idea and get our product on the shelves before someone else does.”
To pencil it in
This expression is used to talk about setting a date for an upcoming event—like a meeting, presentation or lunch—that might not happen on the scheduled time or date.
Since you are only using a pencil (and not something more permanent like a pen), you are leaving open the possibility of canceling or rescheduling the event.
- “Hi Maria, can we meet next Tuesday at 1 p.m. to chat about the upcoming campaign?”
“I’m not too sure about my schedule. Let’s pencil it in and see closer to the date, ok?”
To brainstorm an idea
To brainstorm an idea is to openly discuss an idea with your colleagues in a relaxed and free environment.
This is commonly called a brainstorming session or simply brainstorming. The purpose of brainstorming in business is to explore ideas in an open-minded and non-judgemental environment.
- “Hi everyone, in this meeting we’re going to brainstorm ideas for this year’s new product. Please feel free to add any ideas you have”
Get up to speed
Did you take some time off from work? Or, did you miss the last meeting?
Either way, you will have to get up to speed with everything that you need to know. This expression means to catch up on information, changes or updates that you have missed.
You can also say that the person who is teaching you the missing information is bringing you up to speed.
- “It didn’t take me long to get up to speed with the new laws as my co-worker explained them to me perfectly.”
To keep an eye on the ball
Imagine this: You have stepped out on the stadium with the baseball bat in your hand. Thousands of people are cheering your name but, in your head, you are thinking about one thing: You need to keep your eye on the ball.
To keep an eye on the ball means to focus on your task or goal closely. It can also be used to encourage someone to pay attention or to watch out and maintain a high level of alertness.
- “When it comes to business negotiations, you really need to keep an eye on the ball.”
Word of mouth
Word of mouth refers to the spread of information verbally. In regards to business, it usually refers to people telling other people about your business, product or service.
Note that this expression is commonly used to talk positively about something.
If someone has a good experience with your product, then they may tell their friend about it, and that friend might tell another friend and so on—and before long, everyone is talking about your product! This is known as word-of-mouth marketing.
- “Hi, if you don’t mind me asking, how did you find out about our shop?”
“I heard about it through word of mouth, everybody kept telling me how great your products are!”
To touch base
This is another phrase that comes from a sport. In baseball, the bases are where the batter runs to after striking the ball. In business English, to touch base means to briefly connect with or re-contact someone.
This form of contact is often short and is used to check in with somebody. For example, if you are working with a colleague on a project, you can touch base with them about their progress, or about a part of the project that you are waiting for them to finish.
You will find that this expression is quite often used in emails.
- “Hi Sarah, I just wanted to touch base with you to see if we’re still scheduled to complete the first phase of the project by next Monday.”
On the same page
To be on the same page means to be in agreement or to hold the same views about something with others.
This is a very common English expression and is used frequently in both everyday English and business English.
You might also hear this expression formed as a question, “Are we on the same page?” This is the same as asking, “Do we agree?”
- “Next month we need to cut spending by 20%. Are we all on the same page about this?”
To cut corners
If you are cutting corners, then you are not giving your project everything that you should be! To cut corners is to do something by skipping some steps to achieve an outcome as quickly or as cheaply as possible.
It is used in a negative way, because something that’s made through cutting corners might be missing an important part, use cheap materials or not be as good quality overall.
- “The company cut corners when making their camera, so it’s very cheap but it stops working after a few months of use.”
Doing Business: 49 Phrases for Conference Calls and Zoom Calls
You will, at some point, be asked to take part in a meeting at your workplace. It is a good idea in business meetings to speak as clearly as possible and to be firm (strong).
Remember, though, that “firm” does not mean “rude” or “pushy.” It can be easy to seem pushy if you do not add the all-important “please” and “thank you” to your phrases. These polite terms go a long way in business English.
Meetings are all about listening and letting people know that you understand what is being talked about.
Try the phrases below when you are in a business meeting or participating in a conference call.
Beginning a conference call
You will either hear these phrases or need to use them yourself while talking to people on a conference call.
- “Let’s give everyone a few more minutes to join.”
- “Are we all on?”
- “Can I ask that we all state our names, please?”
- “I’m here. It’s [your name] in [your city].”
- “Can everybody hear me?”
These are useful phrases to check if everyone is present and has joined the conversation. When asked, just respond “yes” and give your name and position, or job at the company.
If you are using a video conference program, it may not be necessary to give your name since others can see your information through your video icon. However, it is still good manners to say hello to everyone when you join.
You can use these phrases to get started:
- “Good morning / afternoon / evening, everyone.”
- “Hi everybody. Thanks for joining us today.”
It is also common to hear a bit of small talk before the actual meeting begins. Some phrases you might use or hear spoken are:
- “How’s everyone doing today?”
- “How’s the weather where you are?”
- “Did everyone have a good weekend?”
Be aware that you will probably not receive actual answers to these questions. They are mostly rhetorical questions (questions that you do not have to actually answer). Most likely, you will get a few nods or a simple reply like “I’m doing fine, thanks.” Despite this, it is polite to ask, and is a natural way to fill the silence before the actual meeting begins.
When it is time for the meeting to start, the person who is leading the meeting will signal that everybody shoulsd quiet down and listen up. Listen for these phrases:
- “Okay, everyone, let’s get started.”
- “It looks like we’re all here.”
- “Thank you all for being here. Let’s talk about today’s objective.”
Asking for clarification during a conference call
When talking on a conference call, there is a chance that your internet connection will be poor, or that the quality of the call will be bad. In these cases, you might miss out on something that someone said.
This happens to native speakers, as well! So, do not be afraid to speak up and ask for clarification. Here are some phrases that you can use to make sure you do not miss anything important:
- “Could you speak more slowly, please?”
- “Could you repeat that, please?”
- “Would you mind spelling that for me, please?”
- “Could you explain that in another way, please?”
- “I’m afraid I didn’t get that.”
- “I’m sorry, but could you speak up a little?”
- “I didn’t quite hear that, sorry. Can you say that again?”
- “I didn’t catch that last bit. Can you say it again, please?”
Taking a break from the conversation
You might need to step away from a conference call. It is perfectly fine to excuse yourself, but make sure that you are polite and clear when you do it. Try these phrases if you need a break:
- “[Your name] speaking. I need to leave for 10 minutes. Is that okay with everyone?”
- “I need a moment. I’ll be back in about 10 minutes.”
- “I’m sorry to interrupt, but I need to step away from the call for a few minutes.”
If you are on a Zoom call, you can leave a message in the chat to avoid interrupting the speaker.
When you return, let everybody know you are back by saying:
- “[Your name] here. I’m back on the line again.”
- “This is [Your name], I’m back. Thanks for your patience / Thank you for waiting.”
Being an active participant in meetings
As the meeting goes on, you want to be an active participant. That means speaking up if you have any questions, as well as giving your feedback when others speak.
If you accidentally speak over somebody or interrupt them when you speak, do not worry! It happens to everyone. You can use these phrases if this happens:
- “Sorry, I interrupted you. You were saying…?”
- “I didn’t mean to interrupt you. Please, go on.”
Sometimes, you will have to interrupt to ask a question. In this case, you can politely signal that you have a question
- “Am I to understand that…”
- “Sorry, but just to clarify…”
- “So, what we’re saying is…”
- “Sorry to interrupt, but…”
You can also participate in the conversation by agreeing and disagreeing with what others are saying.
Here are some useful phrases for agreeing:
- “That’s an excellent point, [person’s name], I agree with you on that.”
- “Okay, I think we’re all on the same page here…”
- “Yes, I see what you’re saying…”
- “I couldn’t agree more.”
You will not always agree with everyone else, and that is okay! Here are some phrases to disagree politely but firmly:
- “I’m sorry but I think you may have that slightly wrong…”
- “From my perspective, it’s a little different. Let me explain.”
- “I see your point, but…”
- “I’m not sure I agree with that.”
Planning for future meetings
When it is time to end the meeting, you may want to set up the next meeting. Whether you are talking with your co-workers, business partners or clients, here are some phrases to help you schedule future meetings:
- “I’d like to set up a meeting with you at your earliest convenience. When are you free?”
- “Are you free to talk again next week?”
- “When are you available for another meeting?”
- “How does 2:30 p.m. Thursday sound?”
- “Does Thursday at 2:30 p.m. suit you?”
After the person has agreed to the time, it is customary to confirm one last time just to make sure the other person has really heard.
If you are working with a global team where there could be confusion as to the time, add the “a.m.” or “p.m.” and the time zone if necessary, just to be sure you have been understood:
- “Great, let’s meet again on Thursday at 2:30 p.m., Eastern Standard Time then.”
- “Okay, I look forward to seeing you at 2:30 in the afternoon on Thursday.”
- “Thursday at 2:30 p.m., EST. Looking forward to it, see you then.”
- “See you on Thursday at 2:30 p.m. Bye for now.”
Giving a Presentation: 22 Expressions for an Excellent Presentation
At some point, you may be called on to give a presentation. Even native English speakers should keep these simple! Business presentations are known for being dull—not many people enjoy sitting through many PowerPoint slides… do you?
Keep your presentation brief, speak clearly and try to waste as little time as possible.
If you are on a video call, remember that body language is still an important part of your presentation. As you talk, try to look up from your notes as often as possible to engage your audience.
Finally, try to have fun! People are generally forgiving if you make a few mistakes.
Starting your presentation
Begin by introducing yourself. Even though this is a business presentation, it is okay to be friendly and informal here, to get everyone to feel comfortable and interested in what you have to say. Here are some examples:
- “Hi everybody, my name is [your name] and I’m [your role in the company].”
- “Good morning / afternoon / evening ladies and gentlemen, I’m [your name].”
- “Hi everyone, I’m [your name]. I’ll keep this brief.”
- “Thanks for having me here today. I’m [your name].”
Note: remember to use the contraction “I’m” instead of “I am” to sound more friendly and less formal.
Introducing the topic of your presentation
After you have introduced yourself, it is time to introduce your topic of presentation.
Remember that business people are often busy people! This is a good time to practice your “elevator pitch.” What is that? Well, pretend that you and the people you are speaking to are on an elevator going from the 10th floor to the 1st. You only have about a minute to express your point, and do it in such a way that everyone will understand.
It will take some practice, but try to say the topic of your presentation in a sentence or two. You can start your topic introduction with these phrases:
- “Today, I’m here to talk to you about…”
- “I’d like to outline our plans for…”
- “In this presentation, I’ll discuss…”
After you introduce the topic, you can give the listeners a “map” of your presentation, to help them know what to expect.
- “This presentation will take about 20 minutes.”
- “First, I’ll start with some general information about…”
- “First, I’ll talk about…”
- “Then, I’ll look at…”
- “Then, we’ll go over…”
- “We’ll conclude with some information on…”
- “Finally, we’ll talk about how to move forward with…”
- “I’ll be happy to answer any questions you may have at the end of this presentation.”
- “To keep things moving, please hold your questions until the end of the presentation.”
Ending your presentation
You have made it to the end of your presentation! Now comes the easy part: ending it. Once you have given your presentation and are ready to finish, use these phrases:
- “Well, that brings me to the end of my presentation”
- “Thanks so much for listening to my presentation.”
- “That’s it from me.”
- “It was a real pleasure being here today.”
- “I’ll be taking questions for the next 10 minutes.”
- “That concludes my presentation. Does anyone have any questions?”
Negotiating Successfully: 4 Phrases to Get the Best Deal
When you are taking part in a negotiation, you might get what you want, but sometimes you may not. Here are some phrases that will work for each situation. Remember: Be polite but be firm.
Sometimes in a negotiation, you know you are not going to win. When you go into a negotiation, you should know what your “deal-breaker” is. A deal-breaker is absolutely not negotiable, or a condition that you will not accept no matter what. For example, the lowest price you are willing to accept for a product is $100 per piece. You will walk away if somebody demands a lower price.
Perhaps you are protecting your “bottom line.” The bottom line is the financial situation beyond which you cannot operate.
Try these phrases to get the negotiation “back on track” if it seems you are “not on the same page.” In other words, get the negotiation going in your favor if you are not in agreement:
- “I understand that we can’t do that, but can we discuss some other alternatives?”
- “I hear what you’re saying, but our bottom line is very clear on this one.”
- “This is a deal-breaker for us, we can’t budge.” (Budge means move, change or give up.)
- “Maybe we can find a compromise that works for both of us.”
If you are already in business and your English is pretty good, learning new phrases and language to climb the corporate ladder (get a promotion) is always going to get you farther.
English is the universal language of business all over the world. The better your English gets, the more in demand you will be as an employee. Learn the business English phrases and expressions in this post to help you get started.
Keep listening and keep talking!