It’s simple. If the creative industry carries on speaking in jargon, jargon will win. It’ll seem natural. And we’ll never rid the business world of the sort of language that confuses, excludes and puts to sleep.
Jargon at work is a problem – everyone knows it and most admit it. Even the people who use it, when you point it out, recoil at the words they don’t even remember saying. But it’s everywhere – and it’ll be everywhere until we stop using it. Yes, we. We, the creative industry. It’s time to get our house in order.
Recently, I’ve been working in-house at a London design agency. The first thing they told me about the job they’d put me on was ‘We’ve been asked to get rid of the business speak and jargon’. Great, I thought – a business that wants to improve the way it communicates, and an agency that’s embracing that.
They showed me the client’s first stab at the magazine. Not bad – not as full of jargon as I’ve seen. But still a bit cold, distant, unnatural and formal. All because of the words, structure of sentences, pace and tone the writer had gone with.
After a couple of days of reading, tweaking here and rewriting there, I sent off a new version of some of the magazine. Feedback came in halfway through the week, some from the client and some from the agency. We went through everything and the person at the agency managing the job told me to implement the changes.
Five minutes later, a project manager across the studio told colleagues she wouldn’t progress an intern’s application. Then someone else told colleagues to apply some iterations, and two designers asked for new copy.
Implement, to progress, iterations, copy. This jargon is tame. No value propositions, no pipelines. But the people speaking these words – actually speaking them – should know better.
But this isn’t an angry rant about businesses hiding behind business speak. This is about the opportunity we all have across the creativity industry to promote the use of clear, honest, entertaining, engaging, persuasive, natural language. The language that’s best for the consumer, the job and the brand. We need to show businesses the power of language by making the right decisions ourselves.
For many people, business speak has become the default. That’s a bit of laziness and a bit of not realising what they’re saying or writing. If we take more time, more care and pay more attention to the way we communicate with other people, we won’t ask them to implement changes, we’ll ask them to change something. We’ll move an application to the next stage, change the design till it’s working, and try some new words. We’ll avoid the abstract and start saying what we actually mean.
That’s scary to many people. You can’t hide behind clear and honest language – it tells the truth. So you need to be sure about what you’re saying and confident when you say it.
My job isn’t to moan about ‘bad’ English, poor grammar or to persuade businesses to write ‘properly’. It’s to find opportunities for people in business to communicate more clearly. And here’s an opportunity right now. We – writers, designers, brand consultants, marketers, and anyone else who’s employed by businesses to help them connect with people – can change the way people in business write and speak.
But first we need to keep an eye on what we’re saying to each other and the businesses we’re trying to help.
Rob Self-Pierson is a freelance writer and board member of the writers’ organisation 26. He helps brands across the world find their voice and connect with people inside and outside their organisations. He tweets about writing and life at @robselfpierson