Are you guilty of using bad language?

Jane Sheffield
Lead Trainer & Owner
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I want to talk to you about the use of bad language in your presentations. No, not the swearing kind. The company cliche, jargon-heavy kind. The laden in detail and ‘makes your eyelids heavy’ kind. 

It’s funny how many fantastic communicators I work with become incredibly dry, formal and technical when I ask, “tell me – what does your organisation actually do”?

This terrifying question has them frantically doing one of two things: hunting for the latest company mission statement, or scrolling to the ‘about us’ section of their company webpage. And then they come out with something like this beauty, 

“We empower our clients to achieve better outcomes with total integrated solutions and unrivalled expertise”.

Say what? Seriously, what does that even mean

Phrases like this sneaking into company presentations are causing ‘snore fests’ all around the country.

Now there is nothing wrong with that sentence on a company website or brochure, but let’s be honest – we don’t actually speak like that – right? So why do we use language like this when speaking in a presentation? So many presentations would be transformed simply by changing the language from formal, written ‘business speak’, to the plain spoken word. Simple, conversational language.

When we take language that belongs in a written document and bring it to a spoken presentation, it just doesn’t work, and here’s why.

It can be difficult to ‘get’ straight away.

We have less time to process when we are listening. Reading is different – we have the luxury of rereading sentences and can also stop and start when we please. 

But if someone is listening to us speak, they are at our mercy – our speed, our start and stop times. And if they don’t understand us, they just stop listening. 

It sounds BORING.

Let’s not sugarcoat it. When our presentations are written in the same language we write in, we’re less likely to talk and more likely to read. And do you know the fastest way to get someone to sleep? Yep, by reading to them.

We miss out on connecting.

Connection is key, and we miss it if we’ve written our presentation like a document. Why? Because we’ve probably approached it from a place of knowledge, rather than connection. We’ve written about what we know, and in d.e.t.a.i.l. This is very different than establishing a two-way dialogue with the people in the room. 

Figure out why you are there and what you want to achieve before you start regurgitating a whole load of facts and figures from the latest company annual report. 

Ok. So how do you write in the ‘spoken’ word?

By speaking.

Out loud. Lots of times. 

It’s only by hearing ourselves speak that we realise what words we naturally ‘own’. 

A good way to really hear how you sound is by recording yourself with your voice memo on your phone. Playing it back, you’ll be able to listen objectively. 

Questions to ask yourself when listening:  

1.   What am I actually saying? 

Just because we like the sound of a certain word or phrase doesn’t always mean we should use it.  Have a go at saying the same thing in lots of different ways. This is a sure fire way to ensure you really understand what you’re talking about. And often will result in a much clear and more natural explanation. 

 2. Would I actually say this? 

Does this sound like you? You are going to feel much more comfortable talking to your audience if you are using your own style of language

3. Why am I saying this? 

Make sure that you actually need to say what you are saying, as opposed to including ‘company blurbs’ because ‘everyone else does’.

4. Could I explain this concept in a clearer way for this audience?  

Think about using a metaphor, story or example to prove your point. Often this is the most effective way to communicate a complex concept that might be unfamiliar to your audience. 

While it is not always the easiest option to translate overused company jargon into everyday speak, the ability to do so, will make you a more effective communicator. Remember, presentations are about communicating ideas, not using specific words.

“Anyone can make the simple complicated. Creativity is making the complicated simple.” Charles Mingus

Stop presenting. Start talking. 


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