How Jargon Killed the Media Interview
April 28, 2015
I’m a fan of the word “gobbledygook”. What a great word! If you look up “jargon” in the dictionary, you’ll see “gobbledygook” (I can’t believe I got to use that word twice in the same blog post) and more variations like “specialized language concerned with a particular subject, culture, or profession”, “unintelligible, meaningless talk” and “gibberish”. Jargon can be medical, technical, legal, scientific or bureaucratic language. And let’s not forget acronyms.
Jargon has its place.
In my media training sessions, jargon is often an issue. I guess it makes sense. People use jargon with their colleagues at work when they want to be accurate and specific. And, it works because everyone is an insider. But, the mainstream audience isn’t made up of insiders. It’s made up of people of different socio-economic levels in different walks of life with a variety of backgrounds and levels of education. And, for many, English is not their first language.
For mainstream media, avoid jargon.
You want the mainstream audience to understand you so you have to lose the jargon. Some jargon is okay if you’re dealing with trade publications or specialty media like the tech, business or farm media. They have informed audiences that are looking for details. Even so, I wouldn’t go overboard. You may be talking to a specialist reporter and an insider audience, but they may not be experts in your business.
There is language beyond jargon.
When I tell my clients to avoid jargon, I find that some have trouble explaining things. Without their jargon, they can’t find the words. They struggle with a shift in mindset. But, they eventually find that it is possible to be clear and concise without jargon. Then there are the folks who just refuse to accept the idea that they need to simplify their language. They worry that they’ll be seen as less intelligent or less professional. And, that’s just not true.
Print vs Broadcast
Jargon is less of a concern for print interviews because they’re paraphrasing you and they’ll write at the level that’s appropriate for their readers. Just try not to confuse the reporter. But for broadcast interviews, the onus is on you. If they don’t understand you, reporters looking for sound bytes will not use your comments. And, if you’re doing a studio interview, how long will it be before viewers change the channel?
Aim for clarity.
Pretend you’re talking to your neighbour, your mother or the average grade ten student. Keep it simple. Don’t use a ten dollar word when a two dollar word will do. People need to understand what you’re saying. Always aim for clarity.