You’re an IT professional. Can you define “hard-copy multitask window array”?

According to Edward Tenner, “HMWA is a sedentary-mode ergonomic workstation for interruptible sequential bio-optical scanning, psycho-motor-actuated text generation and arithmetic operations, featuring visually discriminable nonvolatile off-line storage with prehensile data retrieval, and operator-resident processing protocols for alphanumeric/graphic inputs and outputs.”

Of course you don’t talk like that. Or do you? What if you’re a jargonaut* and don’t even know it?

Welcome back to our blog series on jargon. We’re exposing the dangers of this insidious communications detractor and looking at ways IT professionals and marketers can speak more plainly for fun and profit. There is a distinctly humorous side to jargon – as Tenner’s definition above proves – so let’s poke a little more fun at ourselves.

6 Clues You’re Using Too Much Jargon:

  • Your prospect’s eyes glaze over while you’re speaking.
  • They never call back.
  • In your last client meeting, you talked about blue skying some ideas, then you fired off a few quick sentences about clusters of virtualization hosts, leveraging colo alternatives and solutions lifecycles and how SMBs relate to MSPs, DMRs and VARs.
  • People nod as if they understand, but they keep asking the same question. Or they furiously take notes – not because they’re fascinated by your presentation but so they can look up all those words later on.
  • No one signs up for your webinars any more.
  • Your website traffic is lousy and your bounce rate, the percentage of visitors that leave your site after only viewing one page, is off the charts. (Oops, we meant high.)

 * People who over-use jargon are snidely referred to behind their backs as jargonauts. Don’t be that person. Overusing jargon is killing your client relations and snuffing potential sales instead of getting prospects fired up about your managed services.

Jargon is in the Eye of the Beholder.

Part of the problem is that defining jargon is subjective. Words that seem like useful everyday language to you may seem like silly euphemisms or be entirely incomprehensible to someone else. And sometimes euphemisms become incomprehensible because you’re using the word out of context.

Bandwidth is a good example. Anyone in the IT field and virtually all of your potential customers know what this means. But when “bandwidth” is used in place of “capability” or “availability,” the meaning goes mushy. If your customer cannot upload large-volume data to the cloud conveniently, it’s probably because they don’t have enough bandwidth. If you don’t have time to do something, it is not because you’re “out of bandwidth,” it’s because you’re too busy.

Or take the currently trendy expression “disruptive.” We used to call this creative thinking, then there was the now-overused descriptive phrase “outside the box.” Disrupt isn’t even a positive-sounding word. If you want prospects and customers to consider an entirely different way of thinking about their IT environment – switching to managed services rather than trying to handle everything themselves, for instance -- why not just say that? Disruption is something most business people try to avoid.

That’s why considering your audience is critical, especially for IT marketers. You have not one but two opportunities to pile on the jargon, with tech-based slang and acronyms and also marketing-industry phrases with questionable meaning, such as “thought leader.” Just say what you really mean, and you’ll never have to worry or wonder if you’re being misinterpreted.

The Edward Tenner quote we opened with came from his book Tech Speak, or How to Talk High Tech, published back in 1986. Tenner described the book as a Post-Vernacular Discourse Modulation Protocol, but thankfully his publisher translated that as “a user-friendly guide to scientific gobbledygook for aspiring jargonauts.” Sadly, the book is now out of print, but you can still find used copies online.

Tech Speak isn’t new. Jargon aficionados have been honing their skills for decades. Nonetheless, it’s a skill that should be jettisoned in favor of Plain Speak. How can you do that? Watch for the next article in our jargon series, to learn how you can kick the habit.

In the meantime, catch up with these first two posts:

Do you know how to market your business?