Keep the buzz to a minimum

Business buzzwords are the opposite of effective communication.

From the pages of In Business magazine.

Attention please, I need all hands on deck for this one. You see, I’ve got an idea that’s a real game changer. This growth hack for your professional storytelling is really going to move the needle on how your colleagues and peers perceive you as a thought leader. Don’t worry if being a disruptive visionary isn’t one your core competencies. This bleeding edge best practice is something anyone can leverage to turn themselves into the next guru or ninja. Trust me, the ROI on adding this simple concept to your arsenal of skills is nothing short of amazing. And I know it’s in your wheelhouse. What is it?


In fairness, we all use these popular phrases and many others like them, including myself — though not usually as egregiously as above. When we do, though, two things happen:

  • We risk losing our audience because people don’t understand what we’re talking about, or (perhaps more accurately) assume we don’t know or understand it either; and
  • We forget the cardinal rule of communication — make it clear and concise.

At my first newspaper job, an older editor told me to write my stories so even the dumbest person in town could understand them (she probably said that in a nicer way). Using jargon, buzzwords, and other essentially meaningless phrases doesn’t accomplish that.

There are a lot of approaches to communication, but the best are the most straightforward. Need an example? When Chicago Cubs infielder Javy Baez made his season debut in 2015 as a raw 22-year-old, Cubs manager Joe Maddon gave a nervous Baez this sage advice: “Try not to suck.”

The U.S. Navy coined a similarly eloquent phrase in the 1960s — “Keep it simple, stupid.”

Staffing firm Robert Half offers four tips to avoid communication breakdowns and ensure your messages are well received:

  1. Thoroughly understand the subject. The more informed you are, the easier it will be to convey confidence and credibility. You’ll also be in a stronger position to defend your ideas should questions arise.
  2. Organize your thoughts. Before you begin a discussion, presentation, or email, define your objective. Do you want to inform people or create a call to action? Consider using a formal outline or list of main points to keep yourself organized.
  3. Know your audience. Think about the recipient of the message. Is it your manager? A coworker? A prospective client? Identifying your audience will help you determine the content and style of your communication. For example, while it may be safe to send informal, lingo-laden emails to your colleagues, you’ll want to pay extra attention when addressing a boss or client.
  4. Get to the point. You want to capture your audience’s attention immediately so they will continue listening or reading. Let them know up front the topic you’re addressing and why it’s important to them.

Now that I have your buy-in, I’d like to empower you to take the next step yourselves. Let’s take this offline and devote some time to really fleshing it out. Drill down on the trendy business phrases you can cut from your vocabulary, and feel free to circle back with me at with your own (least) favorite buzzwords.

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