Don’t make your clients feel stupid with your ‘fancy’ English.

Photo by Joshua Ness on Unsplash

Years ago, I walked into a meeting with some potential investment clients.

I was going to present them with the investment portfolio we’d created for them.

I was excited. I was prepared. I had all my materials with me.

This was my chance to dazzle them with our proposition and my knowledge of asset allocation, risk analysis, leverage, etc.

I was brilliant! It was the best presentation I’d ever given.

The words flowed effortlessly. My explanation of how zero coupon preference shares worked was seamless.

My expertise was clear for everyone to see.

Except for my clients.

At the end of my presentation, they looked at each other, conferred with each other and decided NOT to proceed with us!

Huh? … Why?

I later discovered that instead of impressing them, my polished presentation had actually intimidated them.

My use of big words, investment jargon and acronyms had made them feel inadequate.

➤ I failed to use their language to impart my message and help them understand.

➤ I failed to communicate with them because I was too focused on speaking.

➤ I failed because I was too focused on using fancy words to make myself feel good.

Fast forward to today.

➤ “I want to use more sophisticated vocabulary in my business meetings.”

➤ “I am disappointed with my limited English vocabulary. I need to expand it.”

➤ “My team expects me to have more complex words in English.”

➤ “If I use more ‘big’ words, I’ll command more respect.”

It would appear that little has changed since I left the world of finance.

Oh, and you’re not alone.

According to Oleg Vishnepolsky, “Many bosses feel if they don’t use jargon, complex words, they don’t belong in management.”

An American Express survey found that many professionals believe that using jargon makes them sound smarter.

So, complex sentences, jargon and fancy words mean:

➤ you’re a better manager,

➤ you’re smart,

➤ you’ll definitely get that promotion

➤ you’ll impress the board of directors.

➤ you’ll win that next deal.

➤ you feel important

Here’s what you do.

➤ Start adding complex words you’ve read or heard in your presentations with very little context.

➤ Splash a few acronyms here and there — you’re not too sure what they mean, but they sound good.

➤ Use expressions like “leverage resources”, “think outside the box”, “take it to the next level” in your negotiation- you feel especially good about this because it makes you feel like a fluent English speaker

Mmm, this is all about you.

Remember, communication is a 2-way street.

Have you ever stopped to wonder what happens when you use all those fancy words with your client, co-worker, team?

Let’s have a sneak peek.

Here’s what happens when you use complex sentence structures, jargon, big words in your business meeting.

➤ You don’t make it easy for your co-workers to understand your message — they’re left feeling unsure as to what you want them to do.

➤ You may, unintentionally, highlight an intellectual gap between you and your team — “Look at me. I am so much more intelligent than you with my better English.”

➤ You could make your audience feel inadequate or, worse still, stupid.

“People will forget what you said. People will forget what you did. But people will never forget how you made them feel.” (Maya Angelou)

All those fancy words I used in my investment presentation only made my clients feel stupid.

Instead of inspiring trust in me, I made them feel bad about their lack of knowledge.

Being an effective communicator is NOT about making yourself feel good. It’s about making your audience feel good about themselves.

But if you’re so focused on speaking and using big words, you’re not communicating.

This is how you can make your audience feel good and win their respect without fancy English.

➤ Use the language your listeners understand >> make it easy for them >> don’t make it hard work for them to follow your message

➤ Use simple and common words to express complex ideas >> after all, communication means ‘to make common”.

➤ Don’t use acronyms >> unless your audience knows what they mean.

➤ Use words that mean something to your audience.

➤ Don’t use words to impress your audience >> Use words to inspire them, to help them understand, to help them take action.

Business communication is about forging meaningful relationships. It’s about bringing people together.

Don’t let fancy words get in the way.

This article first appeared in English With a Twist © Shanthi Cumaraswamy Streat

Shanthi Cumaraswamy Streat

Written by

On a mission to crush the grammar worrier and release the communication gladiator in international speakers of English. Am at https://englishwithatwist.com/