Jargon: losing or entertaining your audience?

Jargon: losing or entertaining your audience?


The other day I was reading an article in The Marketer, the magazine of the Chartered Institute of Marketing. It’s an accessible publication, and pretty low on jargon too for a professional magazine. I am rather desensitised to marketingspeak in any case, so I probably have some blind spots when it comes to marketing jargon.

Nevertheless, when I came across an article on ‘growth hacking’ on page seven, I instantly felt annoyed. It said:

A growth hacker is a person whose true north is growth.

Apart from the fact that the above sentence says absolutely nothing (growth of what? Trees? Debt? Turnover?) it’s full of distracting language.

‘Hacking’ seems to be the latest term for what was once called going for ‘low hanging fruit’ or ‘quick wins’. It sounds cleverer because it has a whiff of the nerdy rather than managerial to it. A growth hacker then would be someone who cleverly starts by doing the things which need doing first to make sure they grow their success quickly and immediately. Old wine in new bottles?

‘True north’? Yep, this term is filed under T in The Ridiculous Business Jargon Dictionary. It means business direction that leads to success.

Let’s translate that silly sentence then:

A growth hacker is someone who starts with the most important tasks first to achieve quick growth and whose business sense is one that leads to success.

Doesn’t quite have the same ring to it somehow. Perhaps jargon does serve a legitimate purpose, so let’s examine it a bit more closely.

Jargon is an exclusive language

Exclusive means keeping some people in and others out of the conversation. Using language that not all people in your audience understand filters out participants. This can be entirely acceptable, for example while testing someone’s knowledge during a formal exam or an interview.

However, if you need to take your audience with you, find out what language would be considered jargon and explain it along the way. You may be surprised what is and isn’t considered jargon! It is a great way to build trust and rapport with your audience even if you feel self-conscious doing it at first.

Using jargon is a bit like swearing

I can get very distracted by jargon which needs interpreting. Sometimes I suspect a presenter resorts to jargon because they need the security blanket of clever-sounding terminology to bolster their talk. Sometimes I think they just don’t have the words to explain what they really mean. When this happens jargon takes on the character and function of swearing: for a lack of language to express what we are really saying or because we are trying to hide something, we employ specialist language to throw our audience off the scent.

Jargon saves time

If its use doesn’t annoy the audience it can be elegant to use jargon. As the growth hacking example above illustrates, jargon can save time by cutting to the chase with a few well-chosen words. Very handy in the age of that 140-character microblog post, the noble tweet. Air traffic control jargon saves millions of lives each day because seconds really do count.

Jargon is creative use of language

Like swearing the use of jargon can be pretty creative and even funny at times. Some terms simply sum up what we think so imaginatively they can lighten up a situation. My personal favourite is the snottogram: the condescending missive sent via email because sender couldn’t possibly say what they had to say to the recipient’s face.

Now, what use of jargon are you ready to confess to? Entertain us in the comments box below.