Lose the jargon

One of the podcasts that I listen to regularly is The Good Life Project hosted by Jonathan Fields. The Good Life Project is “a global movement that inspires, educates, connects and supports mission-driven individuals in the quest to live better, more engaged, connected and aligned lives.”

Fields has interviewed a variety of fascinating people from all walks of life. He digs deep into what drives them and what it means to them to live a good life. His style is Zen and his podcast is worth a listen.

Occasionally, instead of interviewing someone, Fields will just riff on a topic for a few minutes. He has shared his thoughts on subjects such as creativity, entrepreneurship, the dark side of modelling success and the importance of unplugging from our computers and cell phones in order to fuel our creativity.

In the four-minute audio clip below, Fields talks about the importance of losing the jargon when we speak. It is a topic that is dear to my heart. Winston Churchill said that, in general, the simple words are the best words. And yet, time and again, I hear speeches or presentations that are loaded with jargon. That makes the speech convoluted and difficult to follow. Not something to which a speaker should aspire. 

Fields and I are in good company when it comes to avoiding jargon. Those who agree with us (in addition to Churchill as noted above) include George Orwell, Ernest Hemingway, TED Curator Chris Anderson, public speaking experts Carmine Gallo and Martin Shovel, and many others.

As an example, take one of my least favourite words in the English language: “synergy”. So many times I have heard someone talk about “improving synergies” in the organization without giving any concrete example of what should be done.

If a CEO tells employees to improve or enhance or leverage synergies without more, it’s pretty well a foregone conclusion that nothing is going to happen. However, suppose the CEO instead says:

“Right. Salespeople, you need to get your figures to accounting within seven days of making a sale so that accounting can invoice the clients in a timely manner. Accounting, once you receive the figures from a salesperson, you have to invoice the clients within three working days and, if a payment is more than one week overdue, inform the salesperson so that he or she can follow up.”

That is understandable. That is something on which people can act. And you know what? That will enhance synergies without the word ever having been mentioned.

Of course, if your audience is sophisticated with regard to your subject, you can be a bit more liberal with your use of jargon, acronyms, special terminology, etc. The key thing is to maintain your language at a level that ensure that nobody is left wondering what you just said!
In their terrific book, Made to Stick, the Chip and Dan Heath give a witty example of what John Kennedy might have said, had he spoken like so many business executives today, about his dream of sending a man to the moon:

Our mission is to become the international leader in the space industry through maximum team-centred innovation and strategically targeted aerospace initiatives.

What did Kennedy actually say?

Our mission is to “put a man on the moon and return him safely by the end of the decade.”

Your mission—should you choose to accept it!—is to think carefully about your message, think carefully about your audience and then deliver a presentation using language that will be understood and remembered.

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  1. Hear, hear! I’m on a mission to fight what you might call “brochure-speak” – or BS for short.
    I love the fact that Jonathan admits to using jargon himself. Admission’s very appealing. (“Mission-driven individuals” is crying out to be written as “people”, for a start.)

    Nice example about synergy, and how to improve it without even mentioning the word!

    I just posted about how not to kill engagement stone dead, using the “PACE” approach. (That stands for making your talks Personal, Actionable, Conversational, and Emotional.)

    As you say, one of the best ways to be conversational is to use simple words, like you’d use when chatting with a colleague. Let’s hope the message gradually sinks in around the world!

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John delivered a keynote address about the importance of public speaking to 80 senior members of Gore’s Medical Device Europe team at an important sales event. He was informative, engaging and inspirational. Everyone was motivated to improve their public speaking skills. Following his keynote, John has led public speaking workshops for Gore in Barcelona and Munich. He is an outstanding speaker who thinks carefully about the needs of his audience well before he steps on stage.

Karsta Goetze

TA Leader, Gore and Associates

I first got in touch with John while preparing to speak at TED Global about my work on ProtonMail. John helped me to sharpen the presentation and get on point faster, making the talk more focused and impactful. My speech was very well received, has since reached almost 1.8 million people and was successful in explaining a complex subject (email encryption) to a general audience.

Andy Yen

CEO, Proton Technologies

John gave the opening keynote on the second day of our unit’s recent offsite in Geneva, addressing an audience of 100+ attendees with a wealth of tips and techniques to deliver powerful, memorable presentations. I applied some of these techniques the very next week in an internal presentation, and I’ve been asked to give that presentation again to senior management, which has NEVER happened before. John is one of the greatest speakers I know and I can recommend his services without reservation.

David Lindelöf

Senior Data Scientist, Expedia Group

After a morning of team building activities using improvisation as the conduit, John came on stage to close the staff event which was organised in Chamonix, France. His energy and presence were immediately felt by all the members of staff. The work put into the preparation of his speech was evident and by sharing some his own stories, he was able to conduct a closing inspirational speech which was relevant, powerful and impactful for all at IRU. The whole team left feeling engaged and motivated to tackle the 2019 objectives ahead. Thank you, John.

Umberto de Pretto

Secretary General, World Road Transport Organization

I was expecting a few speaking tips and tricks and a few fun exercises, but you went above and beyond – and sideways. You taught me to stand tall. You taught me to anchor myself. You taught me to breathe. You taught me to open up. You taught me to look people in the eye. You taught me to tell the truth. You taught me to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes. I got more than I bargained for in the best possible way.

Thuy Khoc-Bilon

World Cancer Day Campaign Manager, Union for International Cancer Control

John gave a brilliant presentation on public speaking during the UN EMERGE programme in Geneva (a two days workshop on leadership development for a group of female staff members working in the UN organizations in Geneva). His talk was inspirational and practical, thanks to the many techniques and tips he shared with the audience. His teaching can dramatically change our public speaking performance and enable us as presenters to have a real and powerful impact. Thank you, John, for your great contribution!

Sara Canna

HR Specialist, World Health Organization

John is a genuine communication innovator. His seminars on gamification of public speaking learning and his interactive Rhetoric game at our conference set the tone for change and improvement in our organisation. The quality of his input, the impact he made with his audience and his effortlessly engaging style made it easy to get on board with his core messages and won over some delegates who were extremely skeptical as to the efficacy of games for learning. I simply cannot recommend him highly enough.

Thomas Scott

National Education Director, Association of Speakers Clubs UK

John joined our Global Sales Meeting in Segovia, Spain and we all participated in his "Improv(e) your Work!" session. I say “all” because it really was all interactive, participatory, learning and enjoyable. The session surprised everybody and was a fresh-air activity that brought a lot of self-reflection and insights to improve trust and confidence in each other inside our team. It´s all about communication and a good manner of speaking!"

Jon Lopez

General Manager Europe, Hayward Industries

Thank you very much for the excellent presentation skills session. The feedback I received was very positive. Everyone enjoyed the good mix of listening to your speech, co-developing a concrete take-away and the personal learning experience. We all feel more devoted to the task ahead, more able to succeed and an elevated team spirit. Delivering this in a short time, both in session and in preparation, is outstanding!

Henning Dehler

CFO European Dairy Supply Chain & Operations, Danone

Thanks to John’s excellent workshop, I have learned many important tips and techniques to become an effective public speaker. John is a fantastic speaker and teacher, with extensive knowledge of the field. His workshop was a great experience and has proven extremely useful for me in my professional and personal life.

Eric Thuillard

Senior Sales Manager, Sunrise Communications

John’s presentation skills training was a terrific investment of my time. I increased my skills in this important area and feel more comfortable when speaking to an audience. John provided the right mix between theory and practice.

Diego Brait

Director of the Jura Region, BKW Energie AG

Be BOLD. Those two words got stuck in my head and in the heads of all those ADP leaders and associates that had the privilege to see John on stage. He was our keynote speaker at our annual convention in Barcelona, and his message still remains! John puts his heart in every word. Few speakers are so credible, humble and yet super strong with large audiences!

Guadalupe Garcia

Senior Director and Talent Partner, ADP International