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.”


Jonathan Fields

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 very Zen and his podcast is definitely worth listening to.

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.


About John Zimmer

International speaker, presentation skills expert, lawyer, improv performer
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4 Responses to Lose the jargon

  1. Pingback: 14 Public Speaking Lessons from the United States Supreme Court | Manner of Speaking

  2. Pingback: Acronyms can seriously suck | Manner of Speaking

  3. 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!

    • John Zimmer says:

      Thanks, Craig. I agree. Short and conversational is the way to go. The message is starting to sink in, but it is VERY gradual, based on what I am seeing.


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