What does that really mean?

I recently wrote a communications plan for a client that occupies a space filled with academics, intellectuals and thought leaders. Just prior to that, I had developed a plan for a client that provides services within a blue-collar industry. On the surface, these clients have little in common and the plans themselves were very different. However, our approach to the use of straightforward language in each plan was similar.

In both plans, we got rid of the corporate speak, we dumped the gobbledygook and we wrote in plain English. Straightforward, no words like synergy, leading edge, next-generation, dynamic interface, etc. This was a big departure from the style of other plans that were done for each client previously. Plans that had cost them a great deal of money were sitting on a shelf and weren’t being implemented. One of the questions I asked before starting the projects was why the previous plans weren’t being used. The plans were solid and they provided a good strategic foundation, but sat languishing on a shelf. It turns out that both clients found the plans overwhelming and had not been able to connect the theory to reality. There was no momentum to move the ideas in the plan into action.

I had to present both plans to the senior executive for review and I have to admit, I was most worried about the thought leader client embracing this straightforward approach. Then I had an “AHA” moment. I spent many years (while I was at Maclean’s) surrounded by what I believe are some of the smartest people on the planet. Brainiacs. Scholars. Intellectuals. Thought leaders. Sometimes going for a beer after work with them made my brain hurt. They knew things. Complicated, important, deep stuff and they used words that I had never heard of (and I know a lot of words!!). But each week when they filed their stories, they wrote in a straightforward, easy to understand style. They explained complex topics and put them into context for the average reader, without boring the more sophisticated reader or making anyone feel inferior. That’s what a good communications plan should achieve, and it’s my job to do that.

Both clients loved the plans and they are being implemented and executed. In fact, we have had several referrals through our thought leader client because they felt like our plan was not only on target, we cut out the corporate speak and mumbo jumbo and were able to put forward ideas without muddling their meaning.

There was a recent post on Techcrunch entitled: 10 words I would love to see banned from press releases that talks about the issue of the power of words. It also questions some of the ones that we, as communicators, use on a regular basis. It’s definitely worth a read. David Meerman Scott (one of our favorites here at AHA) also put out a gobbledygook manifesto a couple of years ago, you can download it here.

It’s worth a thought…could you be clearer in the documents you write? Do you overuse words? Have some words lost their meaning in your industry or field?

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