Jargon Will Kill A Media Interview

How is that phrase, “going forward”? Isn’t it a beauty? You can’t go backwards so why use the phrase in the first place. As a media trainer, I know why people use stuff like that – to feel more important. But, guess what? Both the media and the public absolutely hate buzz phrases like that.

In my country, our new leader cut short his media honeymoon period by embarking on a world tour and writing his own speeches that were laced with clichés, jargon and acronyms. In April 2008, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd told the Brookings Institute in Washington that: “The idea of a harmonious world depends on China being a participant in the world order and, along with others, acting in accordance with the rules of that order. Otherwise, harmony is impossible to achieve. Therefore, there is on the face of it a natural complementarity between the two philosophical approaches. And a complementarity that could be developed further in the direction of some form of conceptual synthesis.”

What? This piece dismally fails what I call my town or city square rule. Walk into any town square, stop 10 people at random and ask them what that passage meant. I don’t think even one person could explain it. The point is that unless seven or eight of those people can understand your words, don’t use them. Use more simple words because they are not only more powerful but their use means more people will understand your message. Why would you make it hard for your readers, listeners or viewers to understand you? Our Prime Minister came home from his 18 day world our to headlines like: When it comes to plain speaking, the Prime Minister may be beyond help, What was that, PM? And Rudd says he’s no robot yet he talks like one. Not good.

Mind you, Americans can be just as silly with their use of the language. “Very low food security” was how the US Agriculture Department described the 11 million Americans who sometimes go “hungry”. Wow, it takes a civil servant to come up with something like that doesn’t it!

Another pet hate of mine is the word “outcome”. It’s so common these days that it’s almost a cliche and should be banned on those grounds alone. Whatever happened to the word result which sounds a lot simpler to me? Some people I’ve media trained have used the simpler language that I’ve suggested when making presentations internally at work and were really happy about how much better those communications were received.

This stuff works with both media interviews and with other communications as well. After all, when you talk to a journalist you’re really talking to the audience behind that journalist and there’s little difference between that and talking to people in a social situation. If you think about it, the people at next week’s dinner party, BBQ or other social event will be asking you similar questions to the ones the journalist asks you in a media interview and we tend to use simple language socially so why change it for a media interview. The journalist needs to be asking those sort of questions because they represent the public.

BOLA TANGKAS