3 ways to eliminate corporate speak

Do you unknowingly require a translator when you speak? Avoid confusing your readers by keeping your writing simple, clear and concise.

“Corporate speak” is the gobbledygook that slows down progress and understanding in companies across the world.

But this problem is not limited to large corporations—it runs rampant among small businesses, entrepreneurs and lawyers.

It’s often a symptom of your environment. Could you imagine telling a loved one about the synergies of red wine complementing the innovative marinade on your steak dinner, not to mention having the bandwidth to sit down and commiserate with your counterpart?

If you did, you’d frequently find yourself eating alone.

Most of us have seen the “top 10 most annoying corporate phrases” lists or articles condemning business jargon. But what are some ways to ban corporate speak?

Here are three questions to ask yourself when successfully merging action-oriented planning steps to directives—I mean when you actually write or communicate something:

1. Who is my audience?

Yes, your audience may use corporate speak. However, your message may be more effective by avoiding corporate speak in such an environment. Go through your writing and identify any words that your loved ones won’t understand. This doesn’t work in technical documents, but it will in 99 percent of everything else. If you can use plain, short language in a land of corporate speak you’ll be amazed at the response.

2. Why am I using that word or sentence?

Many people use corporate speak because they believe it will make them sound smarter. They assume “sounding professional” is the same as “sounding smart.” It’s not. Let your intelligence shine through your ideas. People often use complicated sounding words simply to sound intelligent, but it ends up backfiring. Your words get the best of you. Don’t be that guy (or girl).

3. Less is more

People seem to think that the longer something is, the more intelligent or important it is. This is especially important in email. Many people glance and glaze over long emails. Can your point be summed up in three regular sentences? I bet it can.

Visual wording can also help you eliminate corporate speak and make your message more memorable. The words you choose, the order in which they are used and, more importantly, the concrete imagery they create will help simplify your communication.

Not convinced?

Researchers at Stanford concluded that word choice has a significant impact on how your message is perceived. In the study, they created two different styles of messaging to describe a fictional town’s crime problem. The results were interesting:

“In one study, 71 percent of the participants called for more enforcement when they read: ‘Crime is a beast ravaging the city of Addison.’ That number dropped to 54 percent among participants who read an alternative framing: ‘Crime is a virus ravaging the city of Addison.'”

It’s important to note that in this particular example there is a concrete visual that is attached to the words used—the word “beast” as opposed to “virus.” You can picture a beast in your mind but you can’t really “see” a virus.

Concrete imagery is often a primary reason why someone remembers one message over another. The Heath brothers covered this extensively in their book, “Made to Stick,”showing us the principles of successful ideas at work and how we can apply these rules to making our own messages stick.

Words that provoke concrete imagery or relate to something familiar have a greater impact than trying to sound like a “corporate professional.” If you want your message to be remembered (and why wouldn’t you? Isn’t that the point of effective communication?), use words that tattoo an image on someone’s brain.

Communicating your message in a clear, succinct way will allow your creativity to shine. Keep it short. Keep it simple. Keep it “corporate speak” free—you’ll be amazed at the responses you receive.

Jim Nichols is vice president, digital, at Stern + Associates.


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