3 Essential Steps to Clean Up Your Copy
July 20, 2015
We are drowning in a sea of clichéd metaphors, expressions, and nonsense words that obfuscate our simpler message. Examine that opening sentence again. “Drowning in a sea” is a tired metaphor. And why did I choose to use “obfuscate” when I could have used “hide” instead?
A business presentation often acts as a clump of jargon speakers use to sound intelligent and current. But these gobs are also due in part to lazy writing, and in particular, poor editing.
There are really four kinds of jargon that can appear in your on-slide content, or within the content of your talk. This list was pulled from a great article on PR Daily:
“Nouns as verbs: ideate, incentivize, leverage, etc.”
Verbs as nouns: actionable, takeaway, deliverable, etc.
Work that’s not done in an office: drill down, circle back, loop me in, etc.
Nonsense: boil the ocean, drink from a fire hose, build the plane while flying it, etc.”
If you’re not ready to demolish jargon in your presentation, consider that all of these clichéd expressions and substitutions may actually be making you appear unintelligent, or at least, like you’re trying too hard. Consider this Washington Post examination on jargon, with a special focus on the word “leverage.”
“Finally, there's "leverage." (Shudder.) Used almost exclusively in business as a verb rather than a noun, it can mean to apply, manipulate, influence, invest in, introduce or, quite simply, use. One linguist noted that "leverage" in business communication is "mostly used by subordinates in reports to superiors," and "rarely used by superiors in communication with subordinates." - From “The worst workplace jargon”
Do you want to present yourself as a “subordinate” during your next presentation? Does anyone? The first step is admitting you have a problem. The second step is to seek out jargon in your speech outline or on-slide content, and then work on your cleaning skills. Here is a step-by-step guide:
Print out your speech outline as well as any content that you have placed on the slides of your presentation. You should also print out all of your speaker’s notes and any supplementary material you may use during the talk. The key is to have everything printed and at your disposal to edit. This is because it’s easier to catch mistakes when you aren’t proofreading on a bright screen that is also flashing with chats, emails, and social media invites.
Once you’ve gathered your materials, carefully read through each sentence and search for jargon. Look for complex and compound words that take the place of a different word. Also search for expressions and clichés that you recognize from conversation, like “sink or swim.” Highlight every instance of jargon and prepare for destruction.
Jargon clutters the place in our brain reserved for original, creative thought. As we look for something to say, up pops a convenient piece of jargon. This is why it must be destroyed: for the sake of our own originality.
Challenge yourself to delete every instance of jargon that you highlighted from the first step. You may find that your content has become considerably leaner, and that’s a positive thing. It will leave you with more room for creativity, original thought, and clarity.
Now you must ask yourself: What was I really trying to say? In the place of a verb that becomes a noun like “deliverable,” consider using the noun for the actual item that was going to be delivered, like an email or report. Fill all of those blank spaces after your destruction by using clear verbs and nouns that exist beyond the boundaries of the office environment. Change “incentivize” into “offer a bonus,” for example. Substitute “do more with less” into something that has a precise meaning describing exactly what the audience should do with a specified amount.
Getting rid of business jargon won’t merely improve your presentation or speech. Consider the use of the word “leverage.” What if you stopped using words like leverage? Would you wake up one morning and find yourself the CEO of a major company? It’s all completely possible when you eliminate jargon. “Search and destroy” your bad business jargon today by getting rid of expressions like “search and destroy.”
Sunday Avery is the Content Manager for client presentations at Ethos3, an award-winning presentation design and training agency providing professional presentation design and training for national and international clients ranging from Fortune 500 companies to branded individuals like Guy Kawasaki. Follow Ethos3 on Twitter.