Good PR is Buzz-Word Free


Buzz words. They pop up everywhere and the extent to which people come up with new ones never ceases to amaze me. I’m reminded of the scene in Max Barry’s Company, when a new employee wants to know what the company actually does, only to be further mystified after reading a mission statement so laden with consultant-speak that it is nothing less than an enigma wrapped in in a riddle and so forth.

I bring this up today for two reasons. First of all, I read this Slate.com article by Daniel Gross in which he explains the latest business catch-phrase is “flat is the new up.” In other words, with businesses losing money left and right, to stay even for a quarter – to remain flat – is actually considered up. Gross points out the inherent problem with this phrase: In the kingdom of the blind, the one-eyed man is king. In a bear market, a flat fund is king. On the other hand, in a period of high inflation, flat is quite bad news. It means revenues are stagnant at a time when costs are rising sharply.

But, of course, perception is reality. And, with CNBC now using the phrase, people will believe it and you can bet you’ll hear Joe Blow say it on the elevator in 5…4…3…2…

Secondly, I met with a new business prospect recently who repeatedly described his company with so many empty buzz words that even his own people had trouble translating his meaning. For example, “seamless holistic models to innovate the user-experience paradigm with new ideation and syngergized core competencies.”

Insert Scooby double-take here.

As professional communicators, it is our duty to help our clients be understood. Nonsensical buzz words do nothing to communicate value, benefit, or story. And, even worse, trendy catch-phrases are usually deemed “uncool” by the time they become a part of a CEO’s every day vernacular.

Fact is, when someone is using impenetrable jargon, I usually assume they are either hiding something (i.e. the product doesn’t really work) or they simply don’t know what they are talking about (i.e. they don’t really work).

Incidentally, it seems the British government agrees as the Local Government Association has instructed hundreds of district, town and county councils in England and Wales to stop using a list of 100 “non-words” if they want to be understood. The list includes “empowerment;” “coterminosity;” “synergies;” “revenue stream;” and “sustainable communities.” Apparently the association sent its letter after reports that one town council had told staff to use the term “thought showers” instead of “brainstorming.” Yep. You read that right. Thought Showers.

So, I have compiled a handy little tip sheet to keep your communications concise and buzz-word free.

1. Remember what Mark Twain said: “I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one.” In other words, edit! Yes, it takes time. But, our attention spans today are like a gnat. So, if you can say it in ten words instead of thirty, you have a better shot of being heard.

2. Smaller words are easier to digest. Yes, we all grew up believing if you used a big SAT word, you would sound smart. But, in truth, the simpler the vocabulary, the clearer the message.

3. Explain it like you would to your mother. Okay, the inherent insult to moms aside, this is a true statement. You never know the knowledge-level of your listener/reader. So, if you tell the story in its simplest terms, you will always be understood.

4. When tempted, remember the definition of buzz word: a buzz word is a vague idiom that is commonly used in managerial, technical, administrative and sometimes political environments. The whole point of buzz words is to be vague and the whole point of communication is to be clear! So before you create that wiki to define all of your clients’ acronyms, remember good communication does not need clarification.

5. Language is designed to evoke emotion and action. Using nonsensical words will do neither.

Okay, folks! Let’s get out there and minimize ubiquitous content! Expedite seamless end-user communication! Facilitate listener experiences! Or, you know, let’s just be clear and communicate well. And for a laugh, I encourage you to check out the Corporate BS Generator. You’ll love it!

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