We’ve all sat through a boring presentation where we don’t understand a word the speaker is saying because he is speaking in code and he might as well be speaking in a foreign language because no one understands him anyway. (You’ve probably sat through more than one of those presentations; I know I’ve seen dozens of them.) I always tell people to simplify their message and avoid speaking in jargon (aka “code”) because speaking over your audience’s proverbial head is fraught with problems.
Even using the word “fraught” in my last sentence can be too complex for some audiences to understand, so I should say that speaking in code is full of risks. Changing your vocabulary does NOT mean you’re “dumbing down” your message and language, instead your sharing your message with more people and ensuring it is understood. After all, when you’re presenting, you want people to understand what you are saying.
Problem Speaking in Jargon
- Misunderstanding – Obviously, the biggest problem speaking in jargon is the presenter runs the risk of being misunderstood. Depending on the topic, a misunderstanding can be dangerous, such as in the medical sector where a mistake can kill someone. I see companies wasting away millions of dollars money because employees misunderstand their manager’s request, companies do not understand what the client is asking for, and vendors do not communicate well with their subcontractors. All of this misunderstanding leads to rework, lost time, and frustration.
- Less Audience Engagement – It is easy for most presenters to catch themselves speaking in jargon because they see the audience check out. You can lose your audience after just 3-5 seconds of using complex language. If you keep speaking in jargon, you’ll see your audience’s eye contact wane, they start to pull out their phones, or even get up and leave. I did a presentation audit for a new client once where no one in the audience paid attention to him after 10 minutes and one audience member even read the newspaper. (He didn’t even fold the newspaper and try to be sly about reading it, instead he used the paper to visually block out the speaker.)
- Lose Your Flow – When presenters see their audience check out, many speakers re-explain what they said, which breaks their rhythm. Once that flow is broken, the presenter can struggle to regain focus and can easily run out of time, especially when Q&A sessions run long trying to re-explain their message.
- No Emotional Attachment – Speaking in jargon makes you sound robotic to your audience and creates a rift between you and your audience. A great speaker engages the audience and uses emotion to connect with them. Instead of the connection, jargon creates a barrier and the audience is less apt to like the presenter.
- Won’t Be Remembered – Without an emotional connection or “stickyness” to the presenter, their speaker’s message is less likely to be remembered. The whole point of the presentation is to share the presenter’s message, therefore it needs to be understood (back to my first point) and ideally, the speaker wants their message to last more than the length of the presentation.
- Lost Business Opportunities – With the audience not understanding the presentation, not connecting with the presenter, and not remembering the message, the audience does not buy from the presenter. This aspect is key for bid presentations but also with thought leadership presentations where the audience is likely full of potential clients. In the end, people buy from people they like and speaking in jargon makes it difficult for audience members to engage with you, which is indicative of working with you.
When you’re presenting, remember to be audience-centric because presentations are about the audience, not the presenter. A key component of being audience-centric is simplifying your message so your audience understands what you’re saying. After all, what is the point of presenting if the audience does not benefit from you sharing your knowledge?
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How Speak Simple Can Help You
Win more work, increasing your billing rate, and prospects coming to you are all results of being an excellent presenter. Erica Olson created Speak Simple to help technical professionals to become comfortable presenting and excel at each presentation, whether a bid presentation or an educational, content marketing presentation. Learn more about Speak Simple’s flagship program is SpeakU, a self-guided presentation training program.