By Gerard Braud
The question I ask most often these days is, “What does that mean?”
I’m relatively well educated. I’m well read. I travel the world constantly teaching media relations and crisis communications.
But what bugs the ever living daylights out of me is hearing people speak in mumble jumble that they think means something, but it means nothing at all.
The mumble jumble is corporate speak, buzzwords, jargon and government acronyms.
I’m fortunate enough that people pay me an honorarium to speak at numerous conferences, corporate meetings and association meetings every month. I always make a point of listening to what other speakers say so I can incorporate their lessons into my presentation.
But many of the speakers fill their presentations with so many buzz words, jargon and mumble jumble that I find myself sitting in the audience asking, “What does that mean?” The speaker thinks they have said something profound, but they’ve really said nothing at all.
I hear things such as, “If we work in a customer centric capacity to increase productivity and to create a win-win situation for our partners in a collaborative fashion, then we can achieve our goals for the betterment of our strategic partners in the hopes of benefiting those with whom we do business?
What does that mean?
Were you trying to say put customers first?
What is a win-win situation? (with all due respects to Steven Covey)
What are examples of collaboration?
What are the goals?
Who are the strategic partners?
Please, spell it out. Please give me meaningful examples. Please give me tangible examples. Please give me anecdotes. Please communicate with real words. Please put some emotion into your communications. Please make the communications more visual by describing who and what you are talking about.
Let’s go back to lesson one. Would those words work at career day with a 6th grade class. A friend of mine uses this test – if you said it to your grandparents at Thanksgiving dinner, would they know what you mean?
Let’s touch on one other important point that I find in the politically correct world, especially among non-profit organizations. There is a propensity to say things in a way that will not offend the people that you serve. However, in the process of crafting your statement with sensitivity, you become so ambiguous that no one really knows what you are talking about, including… and sometimes most importantly, even the people they are trying to help. That’s right, the people you are trying to help don’t know what you mean, because the organization is being so sensitive and so politically correct.
If you keep changing the labels and the terminology out of sensitivity, then the audience, the reporter and the people you serve will be left asking, “What does that mean?” As we learned in lesson 4, that could lead to you accusing the reporter of taking you out of context. And as we learned in lesson 2, it affects your bottom line when you use terms that your audience cannot understand because of the politically correct ambiguity.
Consultants and trainers are also guilty of trying to coin clever phrases. A few years ago my wife, who works at a small private school, mailed out the class schedule for the fall semester. Her phone started ringing off the hook because after years of promoting the school’s top notch computer lab, computer classes were no longer listed on the class schedule. She told concerned parents she would check it out and get back to them. As it turns out, someone on the school staff had taken the term computer class off of the schedule and replaced it with the term “information literacy.” Yes, it seems someone had gone to a summer workshop in which the trainer/consultant preached that “it’s so much more than just knowing the mechanics of a computer, the internet and the programs – It’s really about ‘information literacy.’” What does that mean? It’s a dumb term. Call it what it is. It’s computer class.
If you’d like more examples from my “What Does that Mean?” file I have a great PDF that I’d be happy to share with you so you can share with the offenders. It is available as a download at www.braudcasting.com
In our next lesson, we’ll examine how people criticize the media for what is often referred to as interviewing people who have no teeth.
This is Gerard Braud