On jargon

jargon language or terminology of a special group. [First usage] about 1350 jargoun ‘unintelligible talk or chattering’ … probably [from] the French gargoter ‘make noise with the throat,’ and probably related to Latin garrire ‘to chatter, babble’.

– Chambers Dictionary of Etymology. R.K. Barnhart & S. Steinmetz,  eds. Chambers, The H.W. Wilson Company, 1988. (taken from 2004 printing).

Jargon is a barrier between you and your audiences. That is, if you use words that your audiences do not find familiar, at least some amount of your content will not be accessible to your audiences. This barrier quickly hides your intent and meaning. If your content is hidden, you’re not getting through to your audiences.

If you’re not getting through to your audiences, you are not communicating effectively.

I came across an anecdote that establishes how jargon can be a barrier. From The Economist on November 12, 2016:

WHEN Donald Trump started to assemble his national-security team, he asked his advisers: ‘Do you know what constant pour is?’ At least one of the generals present confessed that he did not. Well, explained Mr Trump, it is the process whereby the concrete foundations of buildings cannot be allowed to set before being filled; cement mixers must be lined up for many blocks at the ready. The lesson was: the generals may know a lot of fancy jargon, but so does he.

Communicators and audiences are rarely so blunt with each other!

Jargon-rich presentations in front of audiences unfamiliar with that particular jargon can arrive at the same bad ending either very loudly or eerily quiet. In the first case, the audience might interrupt the speaker frequently asking for definitions of the words. These disruptions have the presenter lose flow, perhaps not make it through the entire talk, and often frustrate at least a few audience members enough for them to disengage. In the second case, the audience quietly disengages, as the individual members lose the central message amidst unfamiliar words.

Disengaged audiences are audiences that have not received all the presenter’s ideas and meaning.

In later posts, I’ll review some tools and tips you can use to use jargon wisely, if at all.

For now, spolier alert:

put your audience first.


Want to know more tips to improve your presentations? Contact me to learn more about my workshops and 1-on-1 coaching services – I look forward to helping you Put Audiences First.

Image credit: National Academy of Sciences
©2017-2018, DJG Communications LLC

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