The other day I took part in a hysterical exchange on Facebook: After watching AMC’s The Pitch (think Mad Men meets reality TV), my friend Deb Gabor, who heads up Austin-based consulting shop Sol Marketing Concepts, posted that she couldn’t stand hearing the contestants talk about “about mind spaces, brand platforms, value propositions, empowering consumers and other sundry bullsh*t.” She followed that with a comment along the lines of, “I’m afraid I sound like this at work – please help me.” Of course I jumped in with a snappy and equally buzzword-laden response, as did a few other folks. We cracked ourselves up. (I know, I need to get out more.)
It was funny because it held a grain of truth. Many of us are guilty of defaulting to buzzwords as a shortcut for what we want to say, but this verbal shorthand can spiral quickly out of hand. (Case in point: Last night, my husband asked me what my new Budget Travel app did. I told him we’d plotted the lat/long and other attributes of the points of interest in our road trips and rendered them on a map with a nav to look at lists, articles, etc. He gave me a funny look and said, “I didn’t understand a word you said.” He works on some fancy international business projects, so he’s not exactly dumb. I guess I should have just said, “We put stuff on a map.”)
In fairness, there’s certainly a time and place for many of these terms, at least when used sparingly. If you meet these criteria, go forth and buzz away:
- You actually know what you’re talking about and, if questioned, could answer capably.
- Even better, you have data or examples to illustrate what you mean.
- The term is part of a solid action plan, and not a generic “Hey, wouldn’t it be great if we pivoted to leverage our assets” piece of fluff. What’s the pivot? What are the assets? What’s the leverage? If you don’t know, don’t say it.
- You want to keep it concise and the explanation is way longer than the buzzword.
The rest of the time, overuse of buzzwords can run the gamut from annoying to pretentious, and will likely peg a smart listener’s BS meter in seconds flat. If you’re new to a space, using buzzwords before you’re actually up to speed risks coming off as over-reaching at best (I-don’t-know-anything-about-this-but-I’m-using-the-right-words-so-I’m-in-right?) At worst, your colleagues will label you a poseur. You probably won’t know this, because people will be polite and will avoid saying it to your face. But they’ll be thinking it and talking about you behind your back. Believe it or not, people do this. The operative rule here: if you can’t back it up, don’t say it.
The better bet? Do your homework. Learn how things work and how they’re measured. Familiarize yourself with the details of case studies, not just the top-line takeaway. Once you’ve mastered the situation, be prepared to explain it in plain English. Trust me, you’ll not only be seen as more knowledgeable, you’ll actually learn how how to drive results. And that’s something no buzzwords can accomplish.
Missed the hysterical Facebook exchange? Check out this take on “35 Startup Buzzwords Every Entrepreneur Should Know”.