By Jason Menard
When it comes to trying to connect with their audiences, business spokespeople need to paraphrase the old (and somewhat overused) Las Vegas tag line: “Whatever happens in the board room stays in the board room.”
Too many people – and this condition is not the exclusive domain of business types – are afflicted with the belief that using big words makes one sound smarter. There are many insidious reasons for why this started: from the Bullshit Baffles Brains theory to the “We Don’t Want to Tell the Truth, So We’re Going to Spend 15 Minutes Filling the Air with Empty Words” but what’s now happened is that good, solid, hard-working people have contracted this disease.
As a business writer/social media guy, I see it all the time: jargon and biz speak sprinkled liberally throughout text; passive sentences used to make things sound ‘better,’ and empty words filling the space where useful content should be. In the end, it’s not the customer that suffers, but rather the business themselves.
Earlier today, I was listening to the radio and heard an organization’s representative say the following, “We’re really pushing the value proposition to our customers.”
That was followed by a few obligatory biz terms – I think there was a couple of “leverages” and “opportunities” interspersed with the odd “facilitates” and “solutions.” I kind of blacked out. I was waiting for him to break out the big guns – synergies, paradigms, and low-hanging fruit – but I guess the opportunity never arose.
(Who am I kidding? In Biz Speak, the opportunity is ALWAYS there!)
I’ve left the name blank because I know and like the person who said this. He’s not a Biz Weasel normally, but when the spotlight shines, the microphone’s turned on, and the camera’s rolling, good people fall into bad Biz Speak habits.
Oh, and the issue at hand? Free parking. But instead of saying, “We asked our customers and they said they would really like free parking, so we’re giving it to them,” we had to run through an obstacle course of “interactions” leading to “value propositions.”
If I offer you a value proposition, do you know what it is? Are you so intrigued that you’re ready to parse through my obfuscation to get to the heart of the matter? Would you think less of me if I said, “Have we got a deal for you?”
Not likely. But that’s the world we live in.
(I blame the teachers, actually. Teachers and their random 1,000-word essays are the bane of concise writing everywhere. Why punish a kid for concisely and eloquently presenting a position in 500 words? Why not reward him or her for getting to the heart of the matter, proving his or her point, and wrapping it up neatly in half the time? But that’s an argument for another day and another column.)
It’s going to take a paradigm shift (and, yes, that’s an acceptable use of the word paradigm – not the Biz Speaky “paradigms” that Biz Weasels can’t wait to “leverage”) to change the way we look at language. But there’s hope!
Text-speak may be well on its way to bastardising the English language, but there may be a positive that comes out of its 140-character assault. We are being forced to relearn how to frame our thoughts in a concise way. It’s interesting that an Internet medium – the same Internet that allowed us to throw of the character-count restrictions implemented by newspapers in favour of unlimited space on blogs – is helping bring about this change.
There is no room for empty words in a Tweet; we prefer shorter, to-the-point posts on Facebook – and even the now almost-archaic e-mail is best a delivering messages featuring smaller paragraphs.
A vocabulary is a wonderful thing to have and a commitment to plain speech doesn’t mean you have to cut out all the big words. What it does mean – and it’s an idea reinforced by social media – is that words are precious, and you have to make each and every one of them count.
So if space is at a premium, why would you fill it with words that, while substantial in size, are empty to the core? Say what you want to say in a way that’s direct.
After all, I’m not driving into your value proposition. I’m pulling into your free parking lot. And that “free parking” phrase is immeasurably more valuable to me and all other consumers.
It’s a simple concept, so let’s just get to the point. It’s time to leave those empty biz words in the board room.