Consider these alternatives to common comms platitudes and jargon

Rethink how you use these words and phrases to infuse your messaging with more originality, specificity, and creativity.

Jargon has long been the enemy of — to use an increasingly overplayed term — authenticity. Communicators who take the time to pursue originality and approach business relationships earnestly will find it easier to make connections, earn respect and attention, score approvals and earn the interest of reporters and editors (including those at Ragan and PR Daily!).

But some jargon terms and empty platitudes are so deeply embedded into the way we talk that it takes conscious effort to shake the habit. Whenever you find these terms bubbling into your emails, pitches and presentations, take a moment to consider your intent, and focus up your phrasing with these more earnest approaches.

And if any of the following words and phrases come as a surprise, don’t sweat it — but do think about ways you can infuse your communications with more originality, specificity and creativity.

1. Circling back

Commonly used in emails as a euphemism for following up with someone, ‘circling back’ is an example of indirect jargon that can have an inverse effect to what’s intended. You know who circles back? Predators, transfixed on their prey. 

What’s more, the idea of coming back to a conversation that hasn’t happened in the first place is presumptuous and blatantly manipulative. Communicators hoping to engage a new contact with their skills and prowess can, and should, do better than to circle back. 

2. Storytelling

Don’t panic — there’s no need to scrap this one. Instead, specify.

All communicators should be storytellers, but when the word is deployed ad nauseam, it can quickly lose all meaning. Instead of evangelizing storytelling itself as a tactic, get into the ‘how’ at the outset: storytelling with sentiment analysis, storytelling through audience segmentation and omnichannel touchpoints, and storytelling across key milestones or dates on the calendar that matter to your stakeholders. 

Storytelling is a powerful tool when it’s fortified with tactics and strategy. Doing this from the outset will not only spare you the eye rolls, but also provide metrics and insights that you can use to iterate and refine the stories you tell. 

3. Pivot 

There’s a reason this term is regularly mocked using the sofa scene from “Friends”. Comms pros know that the best-laid plans often go awry (another cliché), and change is the only constant (another platitude). 

When explaining a quick recalibration, be sure to describe your shift as a ‘pivot’ sparingly. While the term has a specific meaning, it’s overused in thought leadership and presentations by communicators who seldom share exactly what they pivoted to.

Telling an audience that you’ve made a change without explaining what that change is sets the recipient of your message up for confusion and disappointment. Anytime you describe a pivot, be sure you’re also explaining the follow-through. 

And while you’re at it, apply the same rationale to the adjective pivotal, which generative AI tends to overuse. Ask yourself: Is a strategy really pivotal if it didn’t empower anyone to pivot? 

4. Leverage 

Ragan has upheld a decades-long reputation for being anti-jargon, and ‘leverage’ is among the words that our editors have grappled with from the outset. As a verb in particular, it strays into cliché territory when it’s overapplied as a euphemism for concepts including reapplying one solution to solve a different problem or repurposing an asset for a new project. It’s belabored in much the same way ‘utilize’ is when people are searching for a more elaborate word than ‘use.’

In the world of finance, it also refers to using borrowed investment capital with an expectation of return. Maybe that’s why it’s so overused — it lands with an air of business acumen that makes the messenger sound smart. Unfortunately, that also means you risk obfuscating its meaning when you use it with the wrong audience.

This is a case where synonyms can help — think ‘repurpose,’ ‘reapply’ or even ‘make use of.’ And if you can get more specific, err in favor of saying exactly what you’re doing. Are you ‘leveraging’ a tool, or are you using it to script a video or design a graphic? Specificity and bluntness is always best, but sometimes that means not using the fanciest word in your lexicon. See what we mean?

5. “Hope you’re well”

You may not expect to see this on a list of overused comms terms — after all, you likely do wish the other party well. But be honest with yourself, and be sincere with your intent. Throwing this term into an email to soften its tone or make it seem more personable may merely read as an insincere platitude. Starting off a message with “hope you’re well” can look like a hollow, half-hearted attempt at an emotional connection. As such, it’s better left unwritten or unsaid. 

A better course: Show, don’t tell’them that you hope they’re well. Demonstrate a curiosity for what they’re working on, mindfulness for when and how your message is sent, and a general consideration or inquisitiveness for how your ask or correspondence fits into their work. 

6. “Meet people where they are”

Another overused phrase, “meet people where they are” often rings hollow and, like the other words on this list, can be improved upon by showing rather than telling. Though it often refers to a real solution, often used by comms pros to refer to a personalized content strategy for reaching distributed workforces or customers across various demographic and cultural segments, thought leadership that stops at ‘meet people where they are’ without concrete examples and focused tactics reduces what can be a real strategy to vague jargon. 

7. A seat at the table 

Here we are, calling ourselves out for a phrase Ragan is guilty of overusing ourselves. As communicators vie for more influence at their organizations, becoming a strategic business partner and maintaining a dialogue with the C-suite is often referred to as getting ‘a seat at the table.’

But understanding this is predicated on the audience also knowing what seat you’re referring to – it could be a high chair at the kids’ table, for all they know. 

The vagueness of this term has also, in many cases, been weaponized as — to use a similar banality — table stakes for DE&I efforts at major organizations. Many attempts to improve representation at the tables in boardrooms and among the C-suite have simply resulted in the symbolic elevation of people from underrepresented communities  who still have no power to effect change, even if they are present and seated.

Rather than aiming for a figurative  “seat,” instead explain what exactly you want to achieve: leadership on a project, strategic control over a policy, the time and respect of the executive team.

This underscores the aforementioned larger point: Many of these words and phrases have become jargony platitudes for a lack of specificity and context, of extra detail and ‘how-to’ goodness. 

Giving your communications that extra edit to ensure you aren’t assuming the meaning is clear or stopping at surface definitions will ultimately position you and your leaders as more original thinkers and creative communicators.

Justin Joffe is the editorial director and editor-in-chief at Ragan Communications.  Follow him on LinkedIn.

Jess Zafarris is director of content at Ragan Communications and an author, editor, creator and game maker.

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