Communicating in the right language: each to their own

Defining and updating the key messages that must underpin a business’s communication is essential, as we spoke about in a post some time ago.

But it’s just as important, when entering the ‘execution phase’, to know how to convey them – as with any other communication content – clearly and unequivocally.

The golden (if not the only) rule is to adjust the choice of language to the recipients to whom, each time, the communication will be addressed.

Yet it is not uncommon for this fundamental principle to be wilfully ignored!

Thus, highly qualified and expert managers and entrepreneurs, when faced with non-specialist audiences or listeners, often cannot resist the temptation to illustrate key arguments using technical language or sector jargon.

Sometimes, this is to assert their authoritativeness and professionalism, but in other instances it’s often because it is simply shorter and more convenient for them to speak the language of the pond they swim in!

Whatever the reason, however, the risk is that it could result in poor understanding and generate confusion, rendering the key messages ineffective or, worse, exposing them to misinterpretation by those who should be receiving them.

Clarity first and foremost!

The use of technical terms, Anglicisms, acronyms or other specialist vocabulary that is, conventionally, proper to a specific professional context is of course both legitimate and necessary, in order to communicate with whoever is directly or indirectly associated with that context.

But for an outsider, it can be tough going, and for those listening in, it can seem almost like it is a device to hide something. In many contexts, therefore, it’s far better to avoid professorial pontification in favour of more accessible terminology.

Let’s explore a few examples.

It is not necessarily the case that a journalist, whilst well acquainted with the general characteristics of a sector or topic, has in-depth knowledge of its specifics. If they usually write about current affairs in a generalist daily, and solicit the opinion of an expert on the phenomenon of digital data compromise, they could be baffled to learn that the principal risks derive from episodes known as ‘perimeter breaches’ and ‘exfiltration’.

In the best case scenario, they could ask for  an explanation of the terms, and this would resolve the problem. But they could also simply miss the importance of this message, or indeed they might not wish to draw attention to their own ignorance of the subject (it happens!), preferring in both cases to discard the information. Or, alternatively, they could misunderstand and, consequently, misreport.

To avoid these risks, it would, without doubt, be far simpler to speak of “hacking” and “theft of personal information.”

In the same way, depicting a service or product as ‘customisable’ might not result in the potential buyer understanding that it is entirely adaptable to their specific needs.

And stating that it will improve the company’s KPIs is hardly likely to persuade, say, a small business owner that it could also increase the performance of some internal processes in their factory.

These seem like extreme examples, yet they are typical situations arising from poor use of language.

Result? Points of differentiation that can really speak in your favour get lost!

Anticipate the gameplan

In circumstances like those we have described above, it’s a good rule to make sure you inform yourself in advance about the profile and characteristics of the audiences and individuals you will be addressing.

What is the level of knowledge of those requesting an opinion or greater detail on a specific topic? What is the composition of the audience – in the main, at least – of the conference at which you have been invited to present the company’s viewpoint?

And how much more important have the answers to these questions become in the wake of the boom in individual business meetings and conferences and seminars now delivered via digital platforms?

Not forgetting, of course, how important the choice of language is in written communication, for example in a brochure or a company profile…

In all these respects,  the support of a communication specialist – with whom the most suitable choices to deal with each forthcoming situation can be discussed and evaluated in advance – can prove invaluable.

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