Speak for Success Speech Lesson 5
Buzzwords and Slang Bury Your Message
Speech Skill: Clarity
The Speech Problem
We live in a world littered with acronyms, buzzwords and slang speech. Right now, for instance, people are leveraging everything all over the place. A friend recently told me that she’d leveraged her portfolio. I thought she was talking about stocks, but she meant that she had a job interview. This was just a personal, minor misunderstanding.
But acronyms, buzzwords and slang can cause misunderstandings that cost time and money when we’re trying to do business.
As business people and professionals, we need to be sure that we’re speaking the right language to the right people at the right time. Both slang and buzzwords are types of informal, trendy language; both obscure meaning.
Slang is “informal language consisting of words and expressions that are not considered appropriate for formal occasions; often vituperative or vulgar” or “the characteristic language of a particular group” (HyperDictionary). So on the one hand, your listener may not understand what’s said because he isn’t a member of the selective group that knows that lingo; on the other, he may understand it very well but be offended by it.
Another problem with using slang speech to attempt to communicate is that many of us tend to get trapped in slang time warps. Unless you live in a house with teenagers or are currently attending a post-secondary educational institute, the slang you’re trying to use is probably hopelessly out of date.
(Remember the phrase, “far out”? Or “lame”? If you do, don’t admit it to anyone!)
Buzzwords are “stock phrases that have become nonsense through endless repetition” (HyperDictionary), or, if you prefer, “important-sounding words or phrases used primarily to impress laypersons” (BuzzWhack.com). Currently, for example, every business under the sun is including the word “solutions” in their marketing copy and conversations, to the point that the word is just a meaningless filler.
Speech Exercise: Business Buzzwords to Avoid
Shorthand Can Shortchange Your Listeners
Acronyms are abbreviations formed from the first letters of each word of a phrase that are sometimes used as words in themselves. They’re popular because basically we’re a lazy bunch and using a set of initials rather than writing or saying several words saves effort. Some common ones are:
- ASP - Application Service Provider
- B2B - Business to Business
- BAU - Business As Usual
- BAFO - Best And Final Offer
- RFP - Request for Proposal
- ROI - Return on Investment
What works as shorthand in the office doesn’t necessarily translate when you’re speaking with customers or clients. Perfectly appropriate acronyms you use in-house may just be gobbledygook to clients.
It's not that acronyms should never be used; just that you should use them selectively. To make it easier on yourself, set up and follow a rule never to use acronyms when communicating with customers and/or clients, no matter what form the communication takes. Clarity is worth the price of convenience.
Speech Exercise: Adding Acronyms
Return to the list of acronyms above and add at least five different acronyms – preferably ones that you are in the habit of using.
As the purpose of this exercise is to start focusing on the acronyms in your speech, you may find it easier to add to the list throughout the week as acronyms crop up when you’re communicating.
The Benefits of Cutting Slang, Buzzwords and Acronyms
When you cut these from your speech, your listeners will:
- be less likely to feel alienated or offended;
- be more likely to comprehend the message you’re communicating.
Speech Lesson 5 Homework Assignment
First, complete the exercises on and linked to this page. Just by doing this, you’ll become more aware of the kind of empty language that you want to eliminate from your speech.
To help you cut slang, buzzwords and acronyms from your speech, keep a Speech Diary. Each day, as you communicate with others, be aware of what you’re saying and write down any instances of slang, buzzwords, or acronyms that you use.
If you do this conscientiously, by the end of the week, two things will happen; you’ll have a list of the empty language that you personally use, and the number of times you use particular instances of the slang, buzzwords and acronyms that are weakening your communication will decrease.
Enlist the aid of your speech monitor again this week, asking him or her to tell you whenever you use slang, buzzwords or acronyms instead of real, meaningful words.
If you’re curious about what new buzzwords are being bandied about, or hear one that you don’t know the meaning of, Macmillan Dictionary has an ever-growing library offering definitions of everything from “alpha pups” through “zombience”.
And just for fun, check out this Ultimate A-Z Marketer's Buzzword Bible from Wordstream.
In the next speech skills lesson, you’ll learn why what you don’t say is just as important as what you do say, as you work on Active Listening.