Posted in Blog by Mary
April 23rd, 2012
“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” – Leonardo da Vinci.
Whether we’re presenting a new idea, a sales strategy or a business proposition, we want to make an impact. We want to sound like we know what we’re talking about so that our idea is taken seriously. If we don’t appear knowledgeable, no one will want to give us the time to speak, let alone want to work with us.
A common misconception is that our language should become more complicated in order for us to sound more like an expert. However, this is not the case at all.
In fact, using overly complicated words, or jargon phrases, can often have the opposite effect: it can make us sound like we’re compensating for a lack of knowledge by using impressive words – style without substance. It can also alienate our audience, either because they don’t understand what we’re talking about and therefore lose interest, or because they feel intimidated by our inaccessible language and fall behind, unable to follow our presentation.
The truth is the more succinct and simple your presentation, the more you will sound like you know what you’re talking about. Whether you’re promoting a large international courier service or a line of couture cupcakes, the essence of your presenting style should ideally be equally straightforward, partly because your audience will understand more of what you’ve said, and also because, as Albert Einstein phrases it: “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.”
What Is Jargon, and Why Is It Used?
The term ‘jargon’ is used to describe a particular vocabulary which is used amongst people who share a common trade or expertise. We may think of jargon as being a new concept, yet it is actually very old. The French philosopher, Étienne Bonnot de Condillac, stated in 1782, “Every science requires a special language because every science has its own ideas.”
Groups of professionals from various fields would use terms and phrases which only other members would really understand. Many forms of jargon developed among traders, especially when traders from different countries had to communicate with each other.
However, in modern times, jargon has spilled out of professional circles and into the public domain. It is often used nowadays to confuse, or to be deliberately vague, rather than to ease communication. For example, much jargon is used within bureaucratic systems. Benefits applications and guidelines are notoriously difficult to understand, and often leave people frustrated, bewildered and angry. The overuse of jargon in health and social care systems is equally scorned, and earns some otherwise wonderful services a lot of ridicule for their beating-around-the-bush style.
Jargon is fine to use when everyone knows the lingo; it can often save time to use certain phrases or acronyms among colleagues who know the slang. But if there is any doubt over whether your audience will know what a CFE is, or what ‘adhocracy’ means, it’s safer to leave it out. There will be times when three words are better than one.
Remember You And Your Audience Are Human
It really is time to let go of thinking we need to sound like programmed robots in order to impress others. Your audience will thank you for your simplicity, and they’ll find your ability to talk on a human level more impressive than sounding like a jargon dictionary.
Here’s one simple guideline to keep in mind when writing your presentation: Would your Granny understand it?
Your Granny might not know what on earth you’re talking about when you say ‘anonymize’, but she’ll understand the importance of privacy and the protection of her personal details. That’s something that everyone can relate to, and once they’ve made a connection with what you’re saying, they can start to value it. Once they value it, they’ll want to buy into it.
Taking the jargon out of our presentations isn’t so much a ‘learning’ – it’s more an unlearning. It’s remembering how we talk to our Granny when we’re trying to explain to her what it is that we do. What’s the essence of our idea? What do we love about it? And what will other people love about it?
People buy from people, so be sure to make full use of your humanity, rather than your vocabulary.