Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Lose the Jargon

I've mentioned in the past that the best thing about a 30-second commercial is that it's short. You don't run the risk of boring people too much. Personally, for networking events, I prefer something that is shorter than ten seconds. Even keeping it that short, though, won't keep their minds from wandering if you cram that time full of jargon.

"Eschew obfuscation" was the advice from my high school calculus teacher. Avoid confusion. Keep it simple.

I know, I know. The words and phrases you are using are remarkably straightforward and shouldn't confuse anyone. After all, if I say I work on "server-side cloud-based middleware solutions", you'd know exactly what I mean, right? To tell you the truth, I don't either.

Listen. Even the most basic terms in your industry will go over your audience's head. If you are ever in doubt whether a term is too technical, it is. Trust me.

What's the danger in being too technical? If someone doesn't understand, they should just ask, right? After all, you are more than willing to help out. Unfortunately, most people won't ask. Instead, they will feel uncomfortable, because you are making them feel stupid. Even if they are polite, they are really just waiting for you to go away.

Second, you are going to come off as an insufferable snob. It's OK to be knowledgeable, but you need to convey that knowledge in a way that your audience can comprehend. Even if they asked the question, the answer has to be at their level, otherwise it will be useless to them and you will have wasted both your times.

Finally, if they don't understand what you do, even if they are willing to continue to put up with you, they aren't going to be able to refer anyone to you. After all, they really have no clue what you are talking about.

If you want to help by sharing your knowledge, spend a little time using analogies and simplified explanations. If the word you want to use is actually an acronym, you may need to either omit it entirely or work the actual meaning of the acronym into the conversation. Remember, no matter what you do, you always have a secret language of jargon which helps you get the job done.

Unfortunately, it doesn't make for good networking.

Photo credit: Andrew C.

2 comments:

  1. There's an article in The New Yorker this week about the general public's lack of financial education. In it, the author describes an argument that is basically this:

    "If people don't know they'll ask questions. Providing education that is not complete results in people thinking they can 'do it themselves' and they'll just screw it up more."

    What has been found, however is the exact opposite is true. People who have no idea what you're talking about will not ask anything. It's only people with familiarity who feel comfortable asking questions.

    Basically, I'm agreeing with you, Greg. :)

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  2. Thanks, Angela!

    Most people don't want to admit that they don't know what someone is talking about. After all, whether it's rational or not, not knowing makes us feel bad.

    If someone is making us feel bad, usually our goal is to get away from that person.

    I'm going to have to check out that article!

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