Slay the jargon!
by Adrienne Michitsch
Every year around this time, we welcome a fresh batch of smart-as-a-whip interns to Siegel+Gale. As they roll up their sleeves, we eagerly share our branding wisdom and make dated pop culture references that land with a thud and remind us we’re O-L-D.
We also draft them into battle.
Well, that’s my plan, anyway.
You see, as a strategist in the Brand Communication practice, I come to work every day prepared to fight the evil corporate jargon that’s destroying the English language. When people talk about “unpacking” that “bleeding-edge” strategy to get management’s “buy-in,” I want to run for the hills.
Recently, during a discussion with a few of our interns, I was reminded that these verbal tragedies are not things we learn from birth — they seep into our language like a big red wine stain when we’re initiated into American office culture. Interns don’t discuss their “pain points” — they talk about their problems.
Brand communication: It’s not just what you say, but how you say it
Humans want — nay, need — to appear smart and capable to the rest of society. But now, as part of that ongoing effort, we seem to have adopted the horrific belief that just telling it like it is falls short of expectations.
After all, why consider all possibilities, when we can engage in “blue-sky thinking”?
But here’s the thing: The more we try to engineer new, lofty ways of describing basic functions, the less intelligent we sound. We may think we’ve just written a powerhouse address — one that will induce a slow-clap ovation of epic proportions. But, in reality, we actually sound like this:
(Incidentally, Forbes rightly observes that “synergy” was first covered in great detail on Sesame Street: “Big Bird called it ‘cooperation.’”)
And so, as I implore our interns to take up arms and help restore verbal order, I have but one rallying cry:
Don’t be afraid to be simple!
Making sense of nonsense
I’m not talking about being elementary. Or simplistic. Language can sound uncomplicated without sounding undeveloped. Being simple means not using nine words when six will do. It means getting to the point, rather than padding it with excessive descriptions and nonsensical sidebars. It means sounding like there’s a person behind it all — not a corporate machine.
When you embrace simplicity, you’re actually showing your audience an enormous amount of respect. Tossing out corporate jargon in favor of good, clean words lets people know you value their intelligence, their time and, yes, their feelings.
(Even in the worst of circumstances, it’s far less infuriating to be part of a layoff than an effort “to right-size our manufacturing operations to align to the new strategy and take advantage of integration opportunities.”)
Fighting the good fight is never easy. When everyone around you is using the lingo, it’s hard not to make a passing reference to your lack of “bandwidth.” To everyone, but especially to our interns, I say: Don’t give in! Stay strong, speak like a human, and on pain of death, do NOT use the word “leverage” unless you’re using it as noun.
Now, go out there and make me proud.
Adrienne Michitsch is a brand communication strategist at Siegel+Gale New York. You can follow her on Twitter: @AddiMichitsch