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Wednesday, August 15, 2007
  Clichés, Buzzwords, and Jargon. Oh, my!

Cliches, Buzzwords, JargonWhat's the difference between clichés, buzzwords, and jargon?

It doesn't matter. They're all related. They alienate your audiences. How?

Clichés bore. Buzzwords cloud the truth. And industry jargon confuses.

These three devils have become so omnipresent, all businesses need to hire outside copy editors to review their most important pieces of outbound communication. Seriously. Those who don't often inadvertently end up with what author David Meerman Scott calls "Gobbledegook".

You might have a jargon problem...and not know it. Get a third pair of very critical "outsider" eyes to review your most important copy and presentations. And be prepared for brutal honesty! I'm often surprised that many companies don't know they're using jargon and clichés -- they think they sound "smart"!

Can't afford an editor? Try this eye-opening exercise. It may tip you off that your copy has a jargon, cliché, or buzzword problem:
  1. Take every instance of your company name in your suspect copy and replace it with your competitor's name. Ditto any product names. Replace 'em with a competitive product.
  2. Read the copy to your CEO, board of directors, key customers, PR, or marketing people. Ask if they think your competitors are ripping off your unique benefits or sense of style.
A big problem with using "smart" sounding industry jargon is that it sounds "dumb" to customers. Companies that use jargon miss an opportunity to distinguish themselves from their competition. And of course, they confuse or bore their audiences.

Do you have a buzzword problem? Find out for sure. Visit these four (fun) links to get some insight on how you can improve communication.

The Encyclopedia of Business Cliches - Seth Godin's Squidoo lens puts light-hearted focus on the growing problem of clichés in business speech. You can vote on the most grating, or add your own. (I had fun adding jargon I heard as I sat in on a teleconference. I added Industry Standard, net-net, Best Practices, Push the Envelope, and core competencies -- in less than 9 minutes!)

Netlingo.com - What are the kids talking about? IM shortcuts and acronyms are crawling into speech. So is tech-industry jargon. I used the Netlingo site to look up quasi-familiar tech-ish terms like ladder pass, Valley Washout, Mystery House, Flypaper Meeting, and Frendor. If you know what these terms mean, you must live in California. Or be 12.

Buzzword Bingo - This is one of my favorite game sites ever. Print randomly generated buzzword cards, pass them out to meeting attendees. When you mark five buzzwords in a row, you win!

Visual Clichés - It's not just words that get clichéd. We all get sick of seeing the same boring images that represent an abstract concept. Are you using visual clichés in your PowerPoint presentations, web copy, or company literature? What image can you live without seeing ever again?

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