Do Something Smart, Ditch The "Corporate Speak"

Tough times for the economy mean tough times for the image of American business.  Right now, Corporate America incurs the wrath of many Americans  – who want businesses to pay for what has happened (and then, in the next breath, paradoxically, they are complaining about their 401(k) losing its value).  

It’s time for American business to build confidence.  But, until corporations start communicating differently, the gap between businesses and the public could continue to widen.  That’s why companies need to start speaking a new language – Plain English.

“Corporate Speak,” filled with nonsense buzzwords, infiltrated American business years ago.  Today, it inhibits too many companies from telling their stories, delivering their messages and rebuilding their reputations.  At the same time, too many other companies speak only in the language of their industries, leaving the rest of us without an understanding of what they do.

Here’s an example… A few weeks ago I sat through a speech by a Fortune 50 CEO, who was “on the road” trying to build confidence in his company’s vision for the future. During the speech, I looked around the room to see hundreds of sets of eyes glazed over.  That’s because the CEO spoke almost exclusively in industry and corporate jargon.  He lost the audience almost completely by calling for such sweeping action as the need to “measure outcomes in broad, per capita envelopes.”  Huh?  In the few instances he was able to use common language, he was able to engage the audience, only to lose it again when he switched back to corporate garble.

Here’s what some big company needs to do – have their CEO sign a pledge to communicate with the public clearly and understandably.  Of course, financial reports and SEC filings have to follow legal language.  But, everything else should be in common English.  

In suggesting this to corporate clients in the past, I’ve been accused of asking them to “dumb it down.”   Actually, keeping things clear and simple shows respect for your audience – proving that you really want to engage with them.  It’s actually very smart.  And very necessary to reconnect business with America.