Monday, October 27, 2008

How to get rid of jargon -- for good

As promised, here is part two of my rant against jargon, in which the heroine attempts to save good words from bad ends with five tips:

1. Walk through the 5 W's.
Make sure you've got your goals and audience nailed down before communicating a single word. That way, the 'who' has a face, the 'what' has clear steps you can assign real verbs to, and you won't have to hit "eject" with words like engage or empower.

2. Be the new kid on the alphabet block.
Don't jump off the jargon bridge just because everyone else is. What ideas/concepts/words roam the world, unclaimed, that describe what you do? Find them, make them your own, and stick to it. Caution: If the words don't immediately tell what you're actually doing, you've got a problem. So either align your biz to your wordy vision, or dig up some new descriptives. Anything less comes off as unauthentic and unoriginal.

3. Brand your language.
State the linguistic rules that competitors will have to play by if they want to scuffle on your turf. AKA, define your terms. This approach can get a bit tricky if you're using tired words in a fresh way; in such a case, the onus is on you to craft new definitions, and then educate your audience about the refreshed meanings. A difficult route, to be sure, but one that can possibly help you achieve richer, more accurate communication with your adoring public.

4. Implode your echo chamber.

Get out of your own board room office head. What are people saying about you in the industry? On the street? Down the hall? Run your messages by a select group of people who don't know your org's day-to-day discussions (mothers come in handy here). As Ogilvy said, "the consumer isn't a moron -- she's your wife." Consult these fine folks, and listen to what they say. This usually results in you eating a big slice of humble pie, but all for a sweeter end -- messages that actually resonate with people.

5. Use kitchen-table English.
The word "leverage" does not come up in casual conversation over pizza. Yet the people you're sharing that pie with still understand what you mean and what you're saying. Sooo, if they can handle it, why not your wider audience? You all put your pants on one leg at a time, after all; surely you can explain what your org does without putting everyone to sleep.Here's a technique: The minute you feel the urge to insert high-falutin' language into your biz speak, stop, breathe, and explain it to your grandmother. (Feel free to actually call your grandmother here. And let me listen in.) If she gets it, proceed. If not, imagine the dinner table and try again.

And if after all this, your writing still isn't there ... then I got nuthin. Don't know what to tell you. We'll never know what you do, and will assume you are the Dunder Mifflin of whatever industry you're in. Sorry.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous9:34 PM

    We former school yard soft ball players say be sure every one knows the ground rules.
    How about this one? Don't let the audience get through before you do. If they do, be sure you recognize it. Thank them for coming and promptly sit down.
    I very much enjoy your articles.

    ReplyDelete