Jargon BINGO

Today is Thursday, so this post is on communication skills.

As you know, presentation skills – along with conversation and writing skills – are an important key to career and life success.  Today, I’m focusing on presentation skills.

I’ve been seeing an interesting TV ad for IBM recently.  It begins with a group of people preparing some “Jargon BINGO” cards prior to a presentation by a senior company executive.  The action them moves to the presentation, where the executive trots out every timeworn cliché and jargon expression that you can imagine.  All of the members of the audience are studying their jargon BINGO cards instead of listening to the speaker.  Finally, a young woman says “BINGO!”  The audience and the speaker immediately go silent.

The tag line is something like, “stop talking, start doing” – not a bad piece of common sense advice, but one more suited to a post on outstanding performance.

My take on the commercial – you know that jargon is a big problem in most business presentations when they start making TV commercials mocking it.

The common sense advice from all this is simple.  Keep jargon to minimum when you are making a presentation.  Speak in clear, easy to understand language. 

The only time that jargon is acceptable is when you are speaking to an audience who is familiar with the terms you are using.  For example, if I were addressing an audience of bloggers, it would be fine for me to use the jargon term “blog”.  It would be insulting to say something like, “I write a blog.  The term ‘blog’ is shorthand for something called a ‘weblog’.  A weblog is an online journal or newsletter that is frequently updated and intended for general public consumption. Blogs generally represent the personality of the author or a website.”  The people in the audience know that information and are comfortable with the term “blog”, so it is acceptable jargon.

Acronyms are also something to avoid – again, unless people are familiar with them.  I can vividly remember the first day of my first “real” job.  I had joined the company that trained me to be a VISTA ( Volunteers In Service To America) Volunteer.  In addition to training VISTAs, this company did a lot of work in the affirmative action area.  It was a small company, and people worked on lots of different projects, so I was invited to a planning meeting for an affirmative action conference we were going to conduct.

My boss said something like, “Sue, why don’t you bring Bud up to speed on what we’re doing here?”  She said, “Fine.  We’re planning an AA conference for the OAS at NIH.”  That threw me for a loop.  I said something like “I’m guessing AA stands for affirmative action, but I have no idea about OAS and NIH.”  She apologized and said, “Sorry.  I’m so into this meeting, I didn’t realize that you wouldn’t know what I’m talking about.  Yes.  AA stands for affirmative action.  OAS is the office of administrative services – basically the custodial staff, at the National Institutes of Health, that’s the NIH.”

Another common sense point here – if you’re going to use jargon or acronyms in a talk, make sure that you and your audience are on the same wavelength.

That’s it for today.  Thanks for reading.  Log on to my website www.BudBilanich.com to subscribe to my monthly ezine and for more common sense.  Check out my other blog: www.CommonSenseGuy.com for common sense advice on leading people and running a small business.

I’ll see you around the web, and at Alex’s Lemonade Stand.


PS: Speaking of Alex’s Lemonade Stand – my fundraising page is still open.  Please go to www.FirstGiving.com/TheCommonSenseGuy to read Alex’s inspiring story and to donate if you can.

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