“We’re a design-centric organization; our true north is to disrupt the market by pivoting our technology using an accelerator to create an MVP that will really crush it in the marketplace. We’re an Uber for our space that will make the average hockey stick look more like a pool cue lying on the felt inflection point. While growth hacking, we’re looking for some opium to launch a sector-leading venture that will absolutely crush it .”
The business world has generated more than its fair share of jargon, from bottom-line to mission critical to deep dive. Indeed, a certain amount of corporate-speak has permeated everyday language to the point where we actually know what someone means when they say things as “prioritize” rather than “let me do these in order of importance.”
But as millennials weigh in with their own startup lingo, we must insist on a complete and immediate cease-fire of escalating jargon. At best, it’s just piling on cliches that have lost their original significance (let’s return the term “disruptor” back to Star Trek, can we?). At worst, it’s hiding problems or indicating that you don’t have much original to say. Or that you have no real idea what you’re talking about. As TechCrunch points out, if a potential investor hears the phrase, “We’re seeing great gross margins, and so are investing in growth given our strong, SaaS unit-economics,” that’s a sure sign the company is actually losing money.
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The best way to sell your company is to tell your story in plain English, without trying to fake anything. It really will make you stand out in a sea of startup gibberish. And it will make people pay attention who otherwise might start looking at the texts on their phones when they hear expressions such as “jack strat” (discussing strategy) or “bandwidth” (when it refers not to bit-rate capacity but whether someone has time to do something). As Stephanie Buck points out, if you can’t explain a technical subject or how your business intends to generate revenues in simple speech, you really don’t understand it yourself. And a smart audience picks up on that quickly.
Here are some hints on how to sound like a real person running a company that actually makes something or provides a service someone can understand and want to invest in.
Tell Your Story in Plain English
What makes for a good story? There’s a narrative thread that ties everything together and leads to a conclusion, preferably a conclusion that moves people emotionally and intellectually. We grow impatient with people who ramble on as if enamored of hearing their own voices, and wonder what the point is. Good storytellers develop focused narratives that lead to a point, persuade people to invest in your company, buy your products and get excited about what you do. If you have something exciting to tell them, then you really don’t need jargon. Indeed, the strategy of jargon is to dress up the proverbial pig in a poke—make something seem better than it actually is. A jargon-filled story is one we know doesn’t really have much to say.
Related article: What’s Your Story: Staying True to Your Company’s Vision
The Five W's and an H
To ensure you tell a complete and satisfactory story with an effective ending, follow the basic tenet of all journalism: who, what, where, when, why and how. If your story isn’t addressing these, then it needs to.
Simple Isn’t Stupid
Saying something simply is often confused with saying it in a way that is not sophisticated or educated. Nobody wants to appear dumb. People think that using complicated words and convoluted sentence structures provides an aura of intellectualism. That’s just dumb.
Your objective is to communicate key ideas efficiently and effectively. Employing jargon as a means to “sound smart” just obfuscates that.
Hmm, maybe a better way to say that would be, “Employing jargon to sound smart just makes what you’re saying more difficult to understand.” Which brings us to our next point.
Use Concrete Examples
Investors want to see results. Customers want products and services with the features and benefits they need. The more you point out exactly how your company can do these things, the better.
Practice and Edit
Novelist James Michener said, “I’m not a very good writer, but I’m an excellent rewriter.” Good writers pare down their first drafts to eliminate awkward sentences, re-consider word choices and delete anything that isn't relevant to the core point. A good editor can help. Asking others for their impressions can help you refine how you say what you want to say. Moreover, editors or other readers can pick up on the use of unnecessary jargon or poor word choices. When you are talking to yourself, you already know what you mean. The trick is to make sure other people know what you mean as well.
The Hemingway App
Ernest Hemingway distinguished himself as a writer with a direct and sparse style. You might want to consider the use of the Hemingway app to help you achieve the same style. While you probably won’t write a novel like The Sun Also Rises, the app does highlight structural problems and jargon in your writing.
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Achieve Your Communication Objectives
Your objective, as Kelly Decker puts it, is to communicate “something that is new to your audience. Make out easy for them to understand and it will be easier to get the outcome you want. Bonus points if you can describe that example using a conversational tone like you would at a backyard BBQ.