beware business jargon

I don’t know about you, but I find myself becoming increasingly intolerant of speakers and presenters who pepper their presentations with way too much business jargon. Some do it deliberately to show off,  but most are unaware that they are even doing it. Beware, business jargon can be useful shorthand, but only if everyone listening understands it.

If you are confident that your audience will be familiar with the terms you are using, they shouldn’t pose a problem. But always remember that, if your assumption is wrong, you may lose, or confuse your audience very quickly.

Beware Business Jargon

I did it myself recently at a networking meeting where a potential client asked what I did. “Soft skills training” was my immediate, unthinking, reply. It’s common phrased used by training professionals, and I assumed that most people were familiar with its meaning. In this case, they didn’t, but thankfully they did have the confidence to ask me what I meant.

If everybody asked for clarification when they heard an unfamiliar or ambiguous phrase, then business jargon wouldn’t be such a big problem, but most people don’t.  Sadly I think that most are afraid of looking stupid or ignorant. They just nod sagely and switch-off, leaving us to burble on, blissfully aware of our bad habits.

Professional Jargon

Some occupations seem to find it impossible to communicate without using vast amounts of impenetrable jargon. Doctors are a prime culprit in my experience, closely followed by Lawyers, Accountants and Computer Experts! They should learn to beware business jargon.

When I was a student, I had many friends who were medics, and I found their conversations bewildering! Like many “professions”, they used lots of TLA’s (Three Letter Abbreviations) and unfamiliar Latin terms.  For example – a Transient Ischaemic Attack or TIA for short means a mini-stroke in layman’s terms.  Later, when I worked in the pharmaceutical industry, I heard an amusing story about a GP who told a patient with diarrhoea to “take nil by mouth for 24 hours”. The poor man then went to the chemist and asked if they could buy some “nil.”

What the doctor meant was that the patient should not eat anything for 24 hours,  so why didn’t he just say so!

Most professions have their specialist dictionary of terms and abbreviations which mean nothing to people outside their sector, including their clients.

Business Buzzwords

Another reason to beware business jargon is the overuse of generic “business buzzwords.” The cliched phrases make great sound bites but are open to interpretation or more often misinterpretation.  The buzzwords are a common cause of miscommunication and confusion.   I remember being in a meeting where my new boss, who had just completed an MBA, used the term Zero Based Budgeting.   I put up my hand and said, “I’m sorry, but I’m not familiar with that phrase, can you explain what it means in practice?”  The speaker did so, and all became clear.   What was fascinating was that some my colleagues came up to me individually afterwards to thank me for asking the question.  They admitted that they didn’t know what it meant either, but were afraid to ask!   As presenters, I don’t think it’s good enough to rely on the members of our audience to let us know when they don’t understand our business jargon.

How to end the problem of Business Jargon?

Step 1: If you have written a script (or a PowerPoint Presentation) print it off and go through highlighting any abbreviations, specialist jargon or business buzzwords. Ideally, ask a layperson to do the same and then compare their response to yours.  This exercise can be a real eye opener.

Step 2: Think about your audience and ask yourself “how confident am I that everyone in it will know and understand what these words of phrases mean?”   You may find it useful to test your assumptions out with a representative sample of colleagues, clients or friends.   

Step 3 – Eliminate all unnecessary buzzwords and jargon. Replace them with clear, simple explanations that most people will understand.

Step 4: Explain any unfamiliar terms or abbreviations when you use them for the first time in your speech.

In conclusion

Beware business Jargon! Follow these simple guidelines, and you will boost the effectiveness of your presentations dramatically.  Communication is only effective when the “receiver” hears and understands your messages. in the same way you meant it when you sent it.   Anything you can do to minimise the risk of misinterpretation has got to be a good thing for your credibility as well as for the effectiveness of your business.

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  1. […] This blog post has been re-published by kind permission of Gavin Meikle – View the original post . […]

  2. Fadhili Lumongi on 04/12/2015 at 09:03

    Thanks a lot for this post. I attended an interview for a Finance position but the panel had Board members without financial background. I had to explain each business jargon used to a point of regretting why I mentioned the terms when I would have chosen to be plain in my explanation. Thanks a lot.

    • Gavin Meikle on 04/12/2015 at 09:14

      Thanks for taking the time to comment. Your story is a great example of the challenge we have when communicating with a lay or non-technical audience! it’s so easy to forget that they don’t understand such terms. Please continue to read and comment, and let me know if you’d like me to address any other specific issues.

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