Like remembering multiple passwords, and having to deal with awkward colleagues, jargon is an irritating but necessary reality of business life
Specialist terminology inevitably evolves within professional groups across every industry as a kind of shorthand communication, but can have the side-effect of baffling and even alientating ‘outsiders’. The media and marketing industries are guilty are notoriously the worst culprits.
The spoof TV documentary W1A mocked corporate jargon at its most ludicrous, most of it spouted by the BBC’s ‘head of values’ Ian Fletcher (played by Hugh Bonneville) and earnestly enthusiastic ‘brand consultant’ Siobhan Sharpe (Jessica Hynes). A key part of Fletcher’s newly-created role, which has been created specifically in the light of recent ‘learning opportunites’ that have been identified within the corportation, is to “think big thoughts, as opposed to small”, he explains in one episode, although he himself doesn’t seem to be entirely sure what this actually means.
Hugh Bonnville nailed the confusion and frustration caused by those who ‘jargonise’ to disguise a lack of sincerity when he said of the show: “Characters in this show employ language to obfuscate. They say ‘Yes’ when they mean the opposite and have that look in their eye which says, ‘If I keep talking for long enough, someone will eventually believe me’.”
The show, along with its predecessor Twenty Twelve (which followed the group on their mission to launch London’s 2012 Olympics) coined such phrases as:
- Digital handshake session (an induction course for new staff run by the BBC’s ‘senior technical services choreographer’ who asks his bemused-looking audience: “How would it be if things didn’t have to be the ways we know things are, yes?”)
- Intuitive technology (as opposed to intelligent technology, this syncs employees to the BBC “in real time, wirelessly, continuously – and in real time…”)
- Hashtag mashup city (when something goes viral on social media)
- Paradigm (verb: to change your attitude)
- Let’s nail this puppy to the floor! (let’s get things done)
Twenty Twelve also featured concepts such as ‘sonic branding’ – an ‘audio logo’ that was simply one note played over and over (“I love it, can I hear it again?!”):
While these comedies sent up the smugness of the indecipherable corporate language used by many in the media world, using it without explanation and out of context can have a very real negative impact, making others feel excluded and destroying trust.
Research conducted in 2011 at New York University concluded that there was a lower level of trust when vague words were being used, and a higher level when more concrete words were used. In other words, people don’t like to feel you’re pulling the wool over their eyes. According to Jargon-Free Fridays advocate: “The more you use jargon, the more people think you are lying.”
Jargon has its place – it’s the context that determines whether it aids communication or creates barriers.
Is it appropriate to the audience?
Don’t make assumptions that everyone will understand the terms you’re using, even if you and your colleagues are comfortable with using them everyday. This is especially true when explaining things to those outside of your industry such as clients or new employees.
Don’t use jargon to hide the fact that you’re not completely confident about what you’re saying
If you’re hoping that throwing in a handful of buzzwords will satisfy your audience that you know what you’re talking about, you’ll eventually get caught out.
Don’t expect the listener or reader to simply ‘get it’
Don’t be afraid to explicitly ask whether the person you’re talking to needs clarification. In writing, err on he side of clarity and spell out industry acronyms the first time you use them.
A good rule of thumb is to remember that good communicators, when either speaking or writing; they understand that its their job to help their audience understand what it is they want to say.
Thinking outside the buzzword box
We ‘crowdsourced’ the top marketing buzz phrases and defined what they mean in plain English to make this nifty little infographic…
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