Removing buzzwords: It starts at the top

It’s no secret that buzzwords have infiltrated the corporate world.  There are no shortages of articles or blog posts mocking the most overused buzzwords or pleading with people to stop using them.  Heck, even the psychology community has weighed in.

Words and phrases like synergy, leading, think outside the box, or out-of-pocket have long been identified as some of the most overused (and meaningless due to their overuse) buzzwords.  However, a quick review of PR Newswire, one of a handful of press release distribution services, suggests they are all still being used, and used often.  As I write this article, each of these words have been used hundreds, and in some cases thousands, of times in press releases in a 24-hour period.

So why do we keep using them? As a marketer, I work in an industry that is among the worst offenders when it comes to using buzzwords, so it’s a question I’ve wrestled with for some time.  So much so that my personal Twitter handle is @SayNoToBuzzwords.

I recently stumbled upon a blog post that, among other things, makes the case that it starts at the top.  When analyzing the use of buzzwords, the author argues that “people want to emulate their leaders and role models so they find every opportunity to do so.”

While I don’t believe this is the only reason for the rampant use of buzzwords, I do agree there is some validity to it.  We’ve all been in meetings where you hear a word or phrase that you’ve never heard before and wonder what it means, or perhaps even get a chuckle out of it.  And in many cases, you hear that word from someone else in the next meeting, and before you know it, you hear it multiple times a day.

If you are a business owner, senior leader or team leader, I urge you to resist the temptation to introduce unintelligible language into your business. And if you’re just starting out, I urge you to resist the temptation to repeat the meaningless words and phrases you hear from your superiors.  Not just because I and others find them annoying, but because they offer little value to you or your business.  In fact, I argue that they can unintentionally damage your business and marketing efforts.

Trust me on this oneif your customers, prospects and influencers (the media, for example) can’t understand what you are trying to say, you’ve absolutely wasted a communications opportunity.  Spend a few minutes reading some press releases on PR Newswire and, even as an intelligent person, I can just about guarantee that you will find a handful that leave you mystified about what a company or product does.  I’ve heard this firsthand from many reporters who are left confused after reading a press release from a company within an industry they cover.

I don’t expect buzzwords to go away any time soon, but as more and more of us refuse to use them, maybe we’ll get back to speaking in plain English, something I would be eternally grateful for!  To quote from the previously mentioned Psychology Today article, “if you practice more straightforward, personalized and emotionally intelligent dialog – perhaps we can all help create a more humanized, honest and trusted workplace.”

Author: Mike Trainor
Mike Trainor is our Vice President.

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