In one of the most famous scenes in the classic movie “Cool Hand Luke,” the abusive warden looks down at the fallen hero and says, “What we’ve got here is a failure to communicate.” Then the warden goes on to say, essentially, “He wants it, and he gets it…” The viewer knows that the hero of the story does not want to be abused and beaten. Still, the warden’s point is that what the hero is communicating to the warden leads to that result.
Now, of course, the warden is the villain in that movie, but he’s also got a point. How and what we communicate does elicit a specific response. While it may not be the response we want, it is the response that’s going to happen, based on what is communicated and who it’s communicated too. Whoever the audience is, communication to that audience should feel authentic and be understandable. This is why so many people recoil when they hear communication that is instantly identifiable as “wonkish” or “bizspeak.”
Regardless of how specific and applicable it seems to be for the communicator, Jargon is often meaningless, incomprehensible, cold, and disconnecting for audiences. What might work in a boardroom will likely fall flat in just about any other room. Here are a few ways to avoid that mistake.
Start with felt needs. Most communications pros are familiar with Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. While that pyramid has been tweaked and challenged over the years, there’s a reason it has staying power in the world of effective communication. Maslow’s prioritizing of wants and needs helps communicators put themselves in the audience’s hearts, minds, and proverbial shoes. What do they really want? What do they really need? Effective communication includes answering these questions.
Curtail bizspeak. There are times when jargon is necessary, but these times are very specific. When speaking to general audiences, giving them jargon comes across as rude and dismissive because those words don’t mean to them what they mean to the speaker… And they may not really mean anything at all. Instead, go with clear, concise, and evocative language. Connect with hearts to win minds. If you must use jargon, do so properly, and with specific emphasis on defining that jargon using the context and without being condescending.
Offer relatable examples to draw people in. Don’t just say what to do or what will happen. Show it. Use examples that the audience will be able to clearly and subconsciously relate to. Help them feel part of the narrative by making it about someone or something that matters to that audience.
And, finally, be authentic. This is more than just “being yourself.” This is about being true to the message, about believing what’s being said and communicating it in a way that feels honest and open, inviting questions and communication, rather than fear and suspicion.
Remember, communication is both an art and a science. While research and data can tell you a lot about how and what to communicate to a specific audience, don’t forget the nuance and the heart.