Clear communication makes for happier customers—and great business ideas.
Jargon, acronyms, buzzwords, and big words. Let’s call it JABB for short (see what we did there?). All are examples of communication shorthand used in virtually every industry. Plumbers have them (elbow, sweating the pipe, rough-in). Government has them (JSA, hypothecation, block grant), and marketers have them (CTR, UX, A/B testing). You likely use some form of JABB yourself. But, like most things we love (hello, Taco Bell), relying on shortcuts too often can lead to communication indigestion.
Jargon and other big words can be useful when communicating with peers.
It speeds up the conversation and shortens meetings. Seriously—can you imagine having to say “California Development Blog Grant—Disaster Recovery” repeatedly? That phrase alone can add 5 minutes to a meeting. Remember when you practiced over and over until you could say supercalifragilisticexpialidocious in one breath? Good times…
The lure of jargon is hard to resist.
Like a snail who with unwavering conviction makes its way to a delicious cascade hop-scented beer trap, the temptation is too much, and the next thing you know, you fall head over shell in love and find yourself drowning in client confusing language.
Among peers, occasionally using buzzwords or acronyms is fine, and kinda fun. The problem arises when industry shortcuts or fancy language are used so often they bleed into client communication. Sometimes people think using big words and acronyms makes them sound smarter with clients. In fact, a Princeton University study shows people who use big words when smaller ones will do actually sound less intelligent. Oops.
If you want your audience to fully grasp what you’re trying to say, write at an 8th-grade level. Why? Because people, regardless of literacy levels, understand better when sentences are short and words are familiar. We’re the first to tell you that writing for clarity is hard. Have you read a standard business contract lately? It only takes 3 pages before you find yourself swatting cobwebs in the attic to find your childhood secret decoder ring. (Business idea: legalese to English translation app. You heard it here first). We’d gladly read 5 extra pages if it meant we could clearly understand what was being said the first time through. Ya feeling us on that one?
Several studies show how jargon and its three besties can work against you when used outside your peer group. The same study from Princeton University scholar Daniel M. Oppenheimer led to the following conclusions:
Jargon, acronyms, buzzwords, and big words…
- create a disconnect (a divide of Grand Canyon proportions) between you and your clients
- dissolve or break trust (I don’t understand what you’re saying; how can I trust you?)
- ensures clients don’t fully grasp the impact of what you’re doing (you’re making me feel stupid…)
- excludes your customer and makes them feel uneducated (the goal should be to empower your client, not make them feel inadequate)
Suffering from JABB in your company? It’s ok, dear reader. There are things you can do right now to kick those trust killers out on their ears.
1. Become acutely aware of when and where to dial back your internal lingo. While it’s often hard to be smarter than a fifth grader, you should be able to clearly communicate with one.
How? Tell your co-worker to keep track every time you use an offending JABB and determine a penalty (Fireball shots at 5 p.m., laps around the building, writing “I will not use jargon with clients” 100 times on the whiteboard Bart Simpson style.)
2. Have acronyms or jargon you can’t completely give up? Give your clients the tools to follow along.
How? Add a glossary to your website via your blog or a standalone page. Consider including it in your new client onboarding process to get them up to speed and feel empowered.
3. Review client/prospect presentations and replace all jargon with clear, concise explanations.
Example: Replace “we’ll measure CTR each month” with “Each month, we’ll measure every time someone clicks on the Facebook ad.” Your goal is to receive affirmative nods in place of vacant stares.
We know change of any kind is hard. Communicating simply is tough, but worth every bit of energy you put into it. With practice, you can become free of jargon, acronyms, buzzwords, and big words. Your clients will thank you and who knows—maybe you can build a new side hustle translating corporate jargon. Wow, we’re full of good business ideas today.
Albert Einstein: “If you can’t explain something simply, you don’t understand it well.”
Be bold. Be brave. Be clear in your communication.
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