Beware of Jargon in Your Presentation

Videographer pointing a camera at you

If you had a talk-back interview set up with CNN, a producer or cameraperson would give you an IFB, an interruptible feedback, to use during the interview.

Are you good with that?

Probably not. Because you likely don’t speak TV.

And like any language, if you don’t speak that language it’s just noise, not communication, to you.

Use layperson’s language

The producer or cameraperson would give you one of those squiggly earpieces, the kind you see Secret Service Agents wearing.

That’s how you would hear the interviewer during the interview.

In a talk-back interview, the interviewer is in a different location than you. That’s why you need an earpiece to hear what the interviewer is saying.

Jargon isn’t B.S.

Jargon is technical language unique to your profession, your organization, or your position. Everyone who works in TV knows what an IFB is.

So if I am talking to a group of TV professionals it is perfectly fine to use TV jargon. They all speak that language.

But as soon as I broaden my audience–as I did in this blog–beyond TV professionals, I have to stop speaking in jargon and use what I call layperson’s language, the langue people use in everyday life.

You aren’t dumbing it down

Layperson language isn’t about dumbing down the subject. You are an intelligent, educated person. So am I, but we aren’t educated in the same fields.

Layperson language is language we can both understand.

The price we pay for using jargon

Once you expand your audience outside of your profession, organization, or position, you need to use layperson’s language or you run the risk of losing the audience.

Go back to the first sentence of this blog where I use the phrase “interruptible feedback.” How did you feel when you came across that phrase?

When our brains encounter something we don’t understand we have to choose. Plow forward and exert energy to figure this out or look for something we do understand somewhere else.

That’s the real cost. You lose the audience.

Most people are too busy to plow through your jargon and invest the time into figuring out what you are talking about.

The sure signs of jargon

The dead give away for jargon is the dreaded acronym. Sure you know what CIA and FBI mean. But do you know what PRSA stands for? How about CFDA? AFTRA-SAG? GAAP?

If you don’t work in public relations, then Public Relations Society of America, PRSA wouldn’t resonate with you. If you don’t work in business or finance GAAP or generally accepted accounting practices, wouldn’t ring a bell.

Only use acronyms with people who speak that language.

If you use jargon with an audience that doesn’t speak that language you won’t impress them. You’ll lose them.

Don’t try to impress with jargon

You wouldn’t call your doctor and say, “Doc, I think I’m having a myocardial infarction.” You would say, “Doc, help. I think I’m having a heart attack.”

Acronyms and jargon have value when we use them as shorthand, a time-saving tool for people who understand the language. I have never once met an audience member who left a jargon-filled presentation and said, “Wow, that presenter is a genius.” Typically what audience members say is more along the lines of “What the hell was that guy talking about?”

I have never once met an audience member who left a jargon-filled presentation and said, “Wow, that presenter is a genius.” Typically what audience members say is more along the lines of “What the hell was that guy talking about?”

Typically what audience members say is more along the lines of “What the hell was that guy talking about?”

How to stay on target

If you are presenting to an audience that is broader than the relatively tight circle of people who speak your jargon, create a target person you want to communicate with. I always choose my sister Ruth. She’s intelligent, accomplished, professional, a leader, and fast learner. She doesn’t speak TV, she doesn’t know the nuances of Cover 3 defense disguised as Cover 1, and she wouldn’t know an IFB if she sat on one. By focusing on her as my target, I am forced to find the layperson’s language that an intelligent, accomplished, professional, a leader, and fast learner will understand.

A five-step plan for preparing without using jargon

  1. Pick one person who you respect–outside of your jargon circle.
  2. Create your presentation so they will understand everything in it
  3. Run it by them if you can
  4. Ask for feedback on anything they didn’t understand easily and quickly
  5. Make changes to those parts of your presentation

Give it a try. You’ll find your communication has more power of connection. In time you may notice that you use less jargon when communicating with people in your industry or organization. They’ll appreciate it too because as it turns out a lot of them don’t know what all the jargon means either.

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