"It's all Greek to me!" - Don’t let jargon jettison your presentation
Lawyers do it in negotiations, and teenagers do it all the time. But when attorneys spout legalese, or high schoolers overuse the latest slang, they’re lazily falling back on buzzwords that can leave their listeners feeling confused or excluded. Likewise, if your presentations are peppered with acronyms and business jargon, your audience will stop listening and start staring at their phone screens. You might not only lose their attention, but you could also lose investors, promotions, or sales too. To avoid that fate, practice these strategies to connect with the people you want to reach, whether in a large conference hall or a small team meeting room.
1. Think before you speak
Unclear communication results from unclear thinking. Instead of relying on boilerplate phrases from disclosure documents, spend some time contemplating the ideas you want your audience to understand before you address them. As Warren Buffet observed, “Bad terminology is the enemy of good thinking. When companies or investment professionals use terms such as ‘EBITDA’ and ‘pro forma,’ they want you to unthinkingly accept concepts that are dangerously flawed.”
2. Scrabble rules rule!
A lively game of Scrabble can turn contentious when one player tries to form a suspect word, and the others challenge it. If the term cannot be found in a dictionary, the player is penalized. That practice can also be applied to business communications, because, if a word is not in the dictionary, don’t try to get away with using it. Even government bureaucrats balk at made-up words such as “subjectlets” or “trilemma.” There’s a reason certain words don’t make it into a dictionary; it’s because they have no meaning.
3. Model a math teacher
Conveying the logic behind a corporate initiative or the inner workings a new product requires business leaders to simplify complex concepts so they can be easily understood. Math teachers must do the same thing, whether explaining basic addition or complicated algebra equations. In the classroom, educators often follow up their explanation of a high-level concept with a practical example. What school child can forget having to figure out the times when trains will arrive at the depot if they’re traveling at different speeds? Students may not initially grasp the whole concept being taught, but by working through practical problems, the big picture becomes clearer. Borrow a page from these teachers and tell real stories that illustrate the points you’re trying to make. Anecdotes are more powerful than acronyms.
4. Listen for the listener
If you’ve ever listened to interviews with military experts, you’ve no doubt heard them toss out abbreviations or terms that are hard to keep track of or understand. A good interviewer, however, will interrupt the speaker to insert a quick explanation when these guests use shorthand jargon in their responses. For a simple example, if a general refers to an event at “1400 hours,” the host may politely chime in with a comment like this: “You mean at 2 o’clock this afternoon, right?” Media consultants refer to this practice as “listening for the listener.”
In other words, the host is not just listening to what the guest is saying, but is also listening to what the audience needs to know to follow the conversation. As an executive coach from San Francisco to wherever you are located right now, I advise you to do this: When you’re preparing your next talk, try that exercise and put yourself in the position of an audience member who’s hearing about your subject for the first time.
Listen, listen, listen!
Nadine Greiner, Ph.D. provides Executive Coaching and Human Resources solutions. Her mission is to make the executive experience exceptionally enjoyable and effective. She believes that the world needs great leaders, and has dedicated her career to helping them.
As an organization psychologist and former corporate CEO, Dr. Nadine understands the pressures and demands executives face. She offers her clients the high expertise that only comes with three decades of consulting success, and a dual Ph.D. in Organization Development and Clinical Psychology. Dr. Nadine is an in-demand speaker, teaches in doctoral programs, and coaches other consultants. She is the author of two books: ‘The Art of Executive Coaching: Secrets to Unlock Leadership Performance’, and of ‘Stress-less Leadership: How to Lead in Business and in Life’. amazon.com/author/nadinegreiner