evoke Blog

Vernon Roberts is an author, master instructor, coach and speaker. He founded Evoke in 2003.

Pull the Plug on Idioms, Acronyms and Jargon

Pull the Plug on Idioms, Acronyms and Jargon

The first rule in presenting or speaking is to be clear. If you are not clear, I need you to put a sock in it. I don't mean to give you a taste of your own medicine and I don't have an axe to grind, but it's the last straw. We use far too many idioms (figures of speech), acronyms (abbreviations using initials) and jargon (vocabulary specific to a group) in our presentations and meetings. We are increasingly working with virtual teams that are culturally and geographically diverse.  Speaking this way won't cut the mustard ... sorry ... won't provide enough clarity to be clearly understood.

 Say what you mean.

I was recently working with a client that was preparing for a QBR (Quarterly Business Review - See, it's important to define acronyms). During the presentation, my client said "over the past quarter, the website experienced lack of engagement." What? ... Experienced lack of engagement?  Doesn't this just mean people didn't come to the site? Why not just say this? This is a perfect example of what happens to us in high stakes conversations.  In our attempt to sound intelligent and knowledgeable, we do two things. First, we reign in our personality to seem business-like (this is a deadly habit and a topic for another blog). Next, we subconsciously dress up our language to sound as if we graduated from a top tier B-school (graduate MBA degree). The end result is that we've sanitized our comments.  Clearly, lack of engagement doesn't sound as harsh as people just didn't come. The issue is, "Does it get the point across clearly enough?" My advice? Always ask yourself this question - "what do I really want to say?" Then say it like you were telling a friend over coffee.

Become aware of your acronyms and jargon.

Over the past seven years, I've taken an informal poll of the participants in my workshops that are generally from Fortune 100 companies. You can play along too.

Question #1: "Have you attended a meeting where the speaker mentioned an acronym that you didn't understand? You don't have to raise your hand but I know you want to." I get a unanimous yes to question #1. 

Question #2: "When you heard this acronym, did you stop the speaker and ask what it meant? This answer here is never unanimous, but close. Approximately 90% say that they didn't ask in that moment. Wow, that means that 9 out of 10 people in that room, from the SAME company, weren't as clear about what the speaker was saying as they should have been. Why? It's because in our fast fast communication world, we take liberties with the language and favor speed over clarity.

Who is in your audience?

More and more, as your team members sit anywhere across the globe and work virtually, you've got to be aware of coined phrases, idioms, acronyms and jargon. This is where thinking before you speak is very important and where pausing can be your friend. When speaking to a global audience, keep your sentences short, your language plain, and your points unobscured. It is even more of a problem when communicating with a virtual team. Idioms and coined phases just don't translate. I'm usually good about this but I let one slip a few weeks ago. I was speaking in Moscow and I said, "Let's give Vlad a hand". I knew it immediately when it came out of my mouth. I just should have started clapping. Thinking before you speak and simply taking your time is the key.

To recap-

  1. Speak in shorter sentences and say what you really mean.
  2. Be careful with your use of idioms, coined phrases, acronyms and jargon.
  3. Speak with a global perspective in mind by pausing and using clear plain language.

Now the ball is in your court (it's your decision this time).

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Wednesday, 17 January 2018