Let’s get back to the flow of the PIE model!
In the last section but , we handled two problems… this time it’s just one bigger one!
Part 1 – when should you use jargon? And when do you?
There are two reasons for using jargon – the one we think we’re using it for and the one that we’re actually using it for.
In our heads, the reason we use jargon is to make conversations shorter, tighter and more precise. As professional presenters we use jargon (particularly acronyms) all the time: we’ll frequently ask for an HDMI converter or a VGA lead – and that’s because it’s much more convenient to say that than to ask for a
High Definition Multimedia Interface. So too with a Video Graphics Adaptor.
Here’s the key point, if your jargon is so widely known that it’s become part of the everyday parlance of your audience, then go ahead and use it. If not, don’t. Your problem as a presenter is that you’re an expert in your field and will therefore be used to using jargon all the time which might not be so well known to your audience. (In my research days I was even responsible for inventing jargon, so niched was my field!) Sometimes it’s hard to know whether to use the jargon or not.
The only time you should use jargon is if you would look stupid if you didn’t. If you’re not sure, don’t.
The other reason we use jargon – without meaning to, very often – is to subtly tell the people who are listening to us that we’re experts and know more than they do. It’s a powerplay, a claim for authority. The recording below gives an example of how this can backfire (remember that at the time I’m talking about here, I was researching at a university medical school into the causes of children’s cancer!)
The serious point is that by using (unnecessary) jargon you’re doing two things. Firstly you’re putting a psychological barrier between you and your audience and secondly you’re making it harder for your audience to understand you. The first might be a useful tactic if you feel you need to do that but the second never is.
Part 2 – how do you remove jargon?
What to do about the jargon problem? Jargon is insidious, because we use it before our brains have had chance to tell us we’re using it and stop us.
I’ve only found one 100% reliable solution and it’s this: when you rehearse your presentation, do it with someone with you who knows very little about the subject to hand. Have them flag up every time you use jargon and then go back and go over that section with non-jargon words.
For each time you replace jargon go over it a few times to fix it in your head.
Research into how to lecture complicated information at universities (and experience!) has found a number of additional tactics to avoid jargon becoming a spanner in the works. These may sound obvious but the fact is that we don’t naturally do them – and the research is very clear that they help, if you feel you must use jargon.
- pre-learning – provide your audience with a glossary or something, before you start. This might be a handout, or it might be a few minutes at the start of your presentation in which you explain the key pieces of jargon. It can seriously bite into your time, so be careful, but it’s often worthwhile. If it’s a handout, give it to people well before you start and make sure everyone’s up to speed before you go on: you want to avoid the situation where they’re having to read the piece of paper when you want them to be concentrating on you
- analogies – take a moment to describe your jargon as an being like something your audience will ‘get’ from their working or everyday lives. For example, instead of trying to explain the technology of how bluetooth connectivity works when my iPhone remotely controls my laptop, I might simply say “It’s like your TVs remote, but for my computer, on my phone”
- black boxing – we’ve covered this elsewhere, in the stuff on presentation design: once you’ve explained something, wrap it up with a non-technical summary about the outcomes rather than the process. For example, once you’ve explained how “non-linear polynomial regression” works wrap it up with “If you’ve got that, great – if you haven’t, don’t worry… you can read up on it later, but what you need to know for now is that it’s a hugely powerful technique for finding relationships inside messy datasets“.
Exercise: look back at your last presentation and jot down five ways in which you could remove (or mitigate) the use and impact of jargon in your presentation. The table below is a good starting framework…
|What jargon did I use?
||What negative effects did it have (be specific here!)||What could I have done?|
|Polynomial||People took a few seconds to remember what it meant: they knew when they thought about it, but because it wasn’t a word they were expecting they had to think about it for a few seconds – and during that time they weren’t concentrating on the presentation||
But here’s the bad news…
There’s more to Intellectual Communication than not getting it wrong! 🙂