Stop the madness

It happens to the best of us: We’re writing about an initiative or the new corporate strategy or another topic that’s actually quite important. Next thing we know, we’ve created a paragraph that’s full of jargon. While it may sound impressive (all those erudite, fancy words), the end product doesn’t say anything. Which I guess is okay, since no one will ever read it.

Yes, it’s true. We’ve fallen prey to the dreaded disease, Corporate Speak. You know it when you see it: It’s dense. Boring. Abstract. And absolutely useless to the employees we’re trying to communicate with.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. Here are 5 ways to cure Corporate Speak:

  1. Make sure you truly understand the topic. Corporate Speak often occurs because we’re trying to make dense source material (50-slide PPT, I’m looking at you) sound a little more clear. But unless we’ve asked lots of questions and developed a deep understanding of why this topic is important and what it means to employees, we’ve just put lipstick on the pig.
  2. Write for employees, not for stakeholders. This may seem so fundamental that you may wonder why I even mention it. But I find that this is where a lot of content goes wrong. The scientists (or engineers or IT experts or finance geeks) want to include all that technical stuff. (After all, it makes them sound important.) So you load up the piece with arcane details. That means you lost sight of the fact that employees don’t care about the fancy stuff; they want content to be simple, understandable and relevant.
  3. Don’t lecture; converse. Lose that imperious, from-on-high tone and replace it with a friendly, conversational voice. You know what I mean: Write the way you’d speak to a colleague or even a friend. Friends don’t let friends use words like core competency, synergy and strategic imperatives.
  4. Be tangible, not conceptual. Here I must quote business analyst and author Christopher Locke, who writes, “business. . . seems to assume we know what they mean when they sling around terms like value, brand and positioning and equate the resulting blur of vague ideas to something we might actually care about.” Instead of “slinging” concepts around, make them very concrete. Everyone will understand that we need to cut costs by 10%. Or because we lose two out of five customers a year, we need to increase customer retention (and keep one of those that now leave us).
  5. Consider your reading grade level. The best defense against Corporate Speak is analyzing your writing using a test like the Flesch Reading Ease Score or the Flesch-Kindaid Grade Level Score, which are conveniently built into Microsoft platforms. Remember that the average American reads at the ninth grade level. And that most marketing content is created at the seventh grade level. So when your content is coming in at the 13th grade, you’ve got a problem. Time to cut out the big words. Make your sentences shorter and clearer.

It’s time, in fact, to stop the madness.

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