Jargon - how to instantly alienate your audience

I work in Shoreditch, otherwise known as Tech City. Those two words together - Tech & City - tell you all you need to know about the area.

Shoreditch is world of tech companies right next to the financial and business district of London. So not only is this little section of London full of techies, it is full of entrepreneurial techies. Every other business (if it isn't an achingly trendy coffee shop or bar where the cocktails come in jam jars) is a digital agency or tech startup of some kind.

Language-wise, this means that not only do we have ‘geek speak’ but, lucky us, we also have business buzz words galore. You can’t walk down the street around here without hearing phrases like We’re using a client onboarding process now or This phase of the operation is mission-critical or This system is feature-rich and we can leverage its potential… You get the idea. A casual poll of a few colleagues threw up this list of jargon pet hates:

  • Sound-boarding
  • Paradigm shift
  • Bleeding edge
  • Blue sky thinking
  • Reaching out
  • Added value
  • The ‘go to’ person
  • End of play
  • State of play
  • Circle back
  • We need to resource up for this project

…and so on.

I’m sure you all have your own favourites. The point is, jargon pushes people’s buttons, and not in a good way. It’s polarising, alienating.

Of course, that is the point of jargon. It’s tribal. That’s why teens and adolescents love it so much, and why the language of the youth evolves so quickly - they don’t want the grown ups to know what they’re talking about. Just look at Urban Dictionary from time to time, the ‘in’ words for any particular state of being change at least weekly.

Jargon makes complete sense in that context, and having a private language is perfectly understandable from an evolutionary perspective…but distancing yourself from anyone outside your ‘tribe’ is far from ideal practice for businesses. Surely you want to be as accessible as possible to the public at large - your potential customer base - rather than send them away confused and in search of a dictionary (or Google)?

His jargon conceals, from him, but not from us, the deep, empty hole in his mind. He uses technological language as a substitute for technique.” ― Richard Mitchell, Less Than Words Can Say

Say what you mean, communicate simply and precisely, and you will stand out from your competitors. Good communication builds bonds, that much is obvious. Most people respond to clarity, to having things explained to them in simple, straightforward layman’s terms that they can easily understand. They do not want to be made to feel stupid or behind the times.

Clear words tend to imply clear thought. You are far more likely to come across as someone knowledgable and trustworthy if you express yourself in a transparent manner.

Arguably the only people who would want to blind their audience with science are those so unsure of themselves, and of their products and services, that they don’t have the confidence to tell their story clearly and openly.

If you absolutely have to use jargon, do so only with your colleagues and partners rather than to your existing or potential client base.

“Speak clearly, if you speak at all; carve every word before you let it fall.” - Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.

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