Ditch the Business Buzzwords: Speak for Success Lesson 5

Business Buzzwords and Slang Bury Your Message

Business Buzzwords on sticky notes
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Whether we're trying to present an idea or make a deal, the goal is always to communicate clearly with our audience. Business buzzwords, acronyms, and slang can cause misunderstandings that cost time and money when we’re trying to do business.

The Problem of Business Buzzwords

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.

Buzzwords are “words or expressions from a particular subject area that have become fashionable by being used a lot, especially on television and in the newspapers" Cambridge Dictionary), or, if you prefer, “important-sounding words or phrases used primarily to impress laypersons” (BuzzWhack.com). Currently, for example, almost 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.

And that's the problem with business buzzwords. When you use them, your audience hears them as tired and meaningless. Use enough of them and your audience just stops listening. You think they're listening to your marketing pitch, but instead, the inside of their brain is just translating what you say as "blah, blah, blah".

Speech Exercise: Business Buzzwords to Avoid

The easy part of the exercise: read this list of business buzzwords.

The hard part of the exercise: strip these meaningless buzzwords from your speech (and from your thinking).

  • Actionable
  • Actualize
  • Best in class
  • Brainstorm
  • Bring to the table
  • Bang for your buck
  • Conceptualize
  • Cash-neutral
  • Cost-centered
  • Customer-centric
  • Customer-directed
  • Disruptor
  • Empowered
  • Empowerment
  • Game changer
  • Game plan
  • Heads-up
  • Hit the ground running
  • Intellectual capital
  • In the pipeline
  • Knowledge management
  • Knowledge transfer
  • Laser-focused
  • Leverage
  • Low-hanging fruit
  • Market segment
  • Mission-critical
  • Mission statement
  • On the same page
  • Operationalize
  • Outside the box
  • Paradigm shift
  • Positioning
  • Push the envelope
  • Ramp-up
  • Resource-constrained
  • Risk management
  • Smartsize
  • Solution
  • Strategic fit
  • Strategic alliance
  • Synergize
  • Thought leadership
  • Touch base
  • Value add
  • Vision statement
  • Win-Win

This is not an exhaustive list - new business buzzwords are being created (and abused) all the time!

The Problem With Slang

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!)

Shorthand Can Shortchange Your Listeners

Acronyms are abbreviations formed from the first letters of each word of a phrase that is 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, Business 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 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, business 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, business 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, business 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.