The Big Misconception Executives Have About Jargon

My husband and I recently attended a wedding during which I was reminded of an important lesson in communications: Ditch the jargon. Always.

In communications training, this is an obvious rule. When you speak in complicated terms, most audiences don’t get the message. Even if the average person could understand it, the more effort he or she has to put into decoding your message, the less chance that person will either remember it or put in the work to understand it in the first place.

However, some of my clients deal with very technical, complicated issues. The primary outlets for which they interview tend to be trade magazines and blogs with the occasional appearance in a more mainstream publication. When I talk about how important it is for them to ditch their jargon, they argue that they are speaking to a more sophisticated customer and don’t want to sound “dumb.” I understand the inclination, but it’s still a bad idea.

Take, for example, that recent experience at a friend’s wedding I mentioned above. My husband is an engineer who understands a lot of technical jargon. So when we were chatting at our friend’s wedding with an executive in his same industry who was excited about the implementation of some new technology at his company, my husband started asking him questions about it. Even though this executive oversaw the process, it was no surprise to me when he wasn’t sure what my husband was talking about. He knew the results and he knew why the technology was important for his organization but he didn’t understand the specifics of exactly how it worked.

That can be the case with executives at any company. But clients often tell me that since they mostly speak to niche industry outlets with generally knowledgeable readers, they can use the industry jargon that their readers will understand. That’s a mistake. I tell them it’s still a good idea to speak at a more accessible level in case someone else who may be a potential target audience member or customer is reading the publication as well.

Isn’t it possible that same type of executive from the wedding could be your target customer?

That doesn’t mean dumbing it down, but it does mean simplifying your language and making sure you define acronyms every time you use them. Then, you’ll avoid alienating your target audience–in addition to the people you may not have known were in your audience to begin with.

Christina Mozaffari is the vice president of Phillips Media Relations. Follow her on Twitter @PMRChristina.