Bernard O'Riordan, Clarity Media Trainer
I’ve done a lot of work with charities, social venture groups and other Not For Profit organisations over the years, both as a business reporter and more recently as a media trainer.
Yet no matter which side of the fence I’ve been on, it has always been a real chore trying to decipher what it is these well-meaning professionals are trying to say.
That’s mainly because the Not For Profit sector is littered with jargon: specialised buzzwords, phrases and acronyms that are meaningless gobbledygook to outsiders.
There seems to be this pervasive need to dress things up so that they sound much more interesting than they really are.
For example, in a couple of training sessions last year I was bombarded with so many mind-boggling phrases - “incubation support”, ”impactful transformations”, “change process”, “enabling processes” , "blue sky thinking" and“externalisation” - that I lost sense of what the participant was really trying to say. I simply tuned out.
Many people in business cling to complex language that their peers understand, probably because it unites them and gives them a sense of control.
Others mistakenly think high-brow wordiness equals intelligence, that they have to sound super smart when dealing with the media. But when pushed to explain what they really mean, they struggle.
The danger is that if a reporter doesn't understand what you're saying, chances are your message will not reach the very people who matter most: investors, philanthropists and other donors.
It's actually a great skill to be able to simplify a technical or complex subject so that a broad audience will not only understand it, but feel inspired to act on it.
That's why when you paint pictures, tell stories, provide facts and use simple, jargon-free language we begin to share your excitement and understand what it is you are talking about.
Thankfully, many Not For Profit organisations we work with have identified jargon as one of the biggest challenges. One organisation even has a company-wide commitment to “say it simply”, starting with written communications like newsletters, funding proposals and their website.
Bringing the language we speak back down to earth and making it more accessible can also save time and money, especially in discussions between people from different sectors or organisations where multiple sets of shorthand compete against each other.
When our language is clear, we understand each other. Questions are fewer and smarter, our discussions are richer and everyone knows what they are trying to do.
And for any charitable organisation trying to raise funds and boost awareness, that's now more critical than ever as governments and the private sector tighten their belts.
Remember, good communication means making sure your message is accurately received, not just that you sent it. So here are five simple tips for Not For Profit organisations to consider before talking to the media or outside investors:
Recognise jargon: Before you can eliminate jargon, you need to be able to recognise it. So read your next media release aloud and see if there are words or phrases that are likely to confuse or act as a road block. Make it a company-wide aim to eliminate annoying, meaningless buzzwords in all your communications;
Choose simple words: Make your thoughts easy to digest by using simple words that readers recognise. If just one person needs a dictionary to understand a word or phrase then you should find another way to say it;
Tell stories: Concrete images and visual language beat abstract ideas every time. Reporters and the wider community will identify with a story or anecdote rather than a bland technical description;
Remember your audience: If you want to identify with the communities your organisation works with, you need to think and speak like them. A great test when writing or speaking is to always put yourself in their shoes. Would they understand the words or phrases you use? If not, start again;
Seek an outside view: Test your message on someone who has no connection with the issue or topic, maybe a family member, friend or even a neighbour. An outside perspective is invaluable when trying to communicate effectively with an external audience