Five ways to kill jargon and save your presentation! (and one time it’s OK to use it)
I once asked a group of employees at a very well known global accounting firm to give me their top five jargon words — words they use that really don’t mean anything. It took about two seconds before the floodgates opened. People were shouting over each other, giving me every three-letter acronym known to man. (CCG, DVP, MVP, B2B, Q1R …) I wrote down 40 words then delivered a speech based on these words. After my final sentence, there was a pause, a few nods in the room, a round of applause, and someone even said: “That was actually quite a good speech!”
People are great at telling stories to their loved ones. We all instinctively know the power of a good story. We all have our favourite movies with their story-lines. Our favourite memories come with a story. The news grabs us with a story. We get that stories work. Stanford University says that a story is 22 times more memorable than a fact. WE GET IT. But then we go into work, where we’re not with our loved ones, where we’re told things like “Just give me the facts”, where the pressure is on and no-one wants to sit around a campfire and listen to a story.
So we forget we are humans, produce awful powerpoints filled with abstract facts — creating a breeding ground for jargon.
Jargon is an anti-hero. He enters the room, standing on the shoulders of some unsuspecting presenter and takes over the meeting with grand, verbose, important-sounding words. People, not wanting to look stupid, nod in agreement to the message he brings, adopt his words and look very serious. When the meeting is over, everyone leaves with a mini anti-hero sitting on their shoulders, ready to spread the virus of meaningless and dull language to every corner of their office.
The key ingredients for jargon are:
- Abstract facts, in isolation.
- Phrases that aren’t embellished with a picture.
- Fear — created by the need to ‘say the right thing’ along with a belief that people ‘just want the facts’.
- The widely-held belief that what you say is boring without the jargon.
“We have to cater for a number of stakeholders who are under imminent time pressure to ensure they achieve the goals laid out for them within a key time frame”
Here is the same idea with a little bit of embellishment :
“We need to finish breakfast by 8:00 AM and be in the taxi by 8:15 because our client has to catch a flight from Heathrow at 11:15”.
Two-thirds of our brain is wired to receive information in picture. It’s irrelevant whether we’re an investor, an analyst or a tech geek. Our brains still want to visualise. So if we want to be understood, we have to supply that picture. We’re not talking about conjuring up the Mona Lisa, your picture just has to take the audience’s brain to a happy place. As soon as you start to create that picture and convey the ‘who, the what, the why, the where and the when’ of your story, you can start to get the jargon monkey off your back.
Here are five ways you can kill jargon and breathe technicolour life into your presentation:
- Write down the top ten jargon words you know your company uses, and try to avoid these phrases in your own story.*
- If you need to use one of these phrases add a picture to it — add context. Instead of saying “The B2B results for Q1 are”, say “The sales figures for January to March this year were …”.
- As a game, imagine you’re presenting to an alien who has no clue about your business. You’ll have to define phrases like B2B or “online platform”, with an explanation and defining those phrases will reveal to you some better words to use. Record yourself on your phone doing it and play it back with a trusted colleague. Create a new language for your audience!
- In your next meeting, dare to use some of that new language and deliver it with conviction using a new skill — great delivery. Jargon thrives where there is bad delivery. So force yourself to stand tall, or sit tall, look people in the eye and speak with conviction. Have a look at our online academy . Session 5 deals with standing tall, session 6 with breathing well and session 7 with projecting your voice. This is where you realise how jargon phrases don’t have much meaning and are hard to deliver well. So don’t deliver them. Kill them.
- Watch the awesome Ginny Radmall’s one minute video on “killing the buzz word” and my one minute video on a great jargon-busting exercise.
*And that one time you CAN use jargon? When you’re confident that every single person will understand it. There are times when what the majority of us will see as jargon is a commonly shared industry language, and those buzzwords are the verbal shorthand that allows a person to paint that all-important picture.
So the next time you’re planning a presentation, give these tips a go and we guarantee you’ll deliver a compelling story that everyone will understand and that YOU will enjoy telling. And if you do give it a go, let us know how you get on!