The Case for Plain Language

Bob Wiesner | July 24, 2018

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Books have been written about it. Psychologists have researched it. It’s on everyone’s list of least favorite business things.

Yet it still exists. And may be growing.

I’m talking about business bullshit.

The desire so many have to make communication more complex in an effort, I suppose, to sound knowledgeable or impressive.

Yet it doesn’t really work.

Speak to Impress?

Surveys have regularly captured the same complaint. Subject matter experts, sales professionals, and analysts think they’re being impressive when their written and spoken language is loaded with jargon, acronyms, long sentences and complex ideas.

Or maybe they’ve just never learned how to speak peer to peer.

Whatever it is, it doesn’t work. You make your ideas seem complex. I want them to be simple. The simpler the better.

What’s really impressive to clients and prospects isn’t the technical knowledge of the provider or partner. It’s that person’s ability to take technical knowledge and communicate it in the simplest way possible.

Wasn’t this how you ultimately judged your favorite professors? Wasn’t it the one who took an idea you were struggling with and finally turned on the light bulb for you?

The Hi-Top Solution

Simple, easy to understand, easy to visualize communication is the goal. Amazingly, some writers and presenters have a hard time envisioning what the finished product would look and sound like.

If that’s you, try this.

Imagine you and a single member of your audience having a beer at a high-top table in a popular bar. The other person asks you, “So what about this new thing you’re working on?”

I’ll bet your answer is going to be accurate, short, simple and sweet. Maybe you’ll grab a dry cocktail napkin and a pen (Sharpie would be better!) and sketch out some of your thinking. The other will ask you a few questions, which you’ll answer with equal simplicity. By the time the next beer arrives, you’ll have provided a no-bullshit answer, without the technical jargon, in a way that’s simple and easy to follow.

So it’ll work one-on-one over a beer. And, yes, the some presentation content, with just a few tactical modifications, would work for a roomful of people.

Talking Down vs. Speaking With

Some of my clients have been concerned about this. “I won’t sound smart.” “There’s no really simple description.” “It’ll be so simple I’ll sound like I’m patronizing the audience.””That’s not why they pay me.”

Look, no audience wants to be patronized. And they don’t want to lectured to. But just check out any video of very scholarly speakers discussing very important topics. Three come to mind right away – Richard Thaler, Daniel Kahneman, and Neil DeGrasse Tyson. They take complex ideas and turn it into simple communications. They give you the feeling they’re not talking down to you, but they’re speaking with you. Not a lecture but a conversation.

Plain speaking will be impressive. It will make the difference between winning and losing.



Since clear, simple communication is essential to selling, leading and collaborating, every WCG program addresses this issue.

If you think you or your teams might be delivering communications that are too complex here’s what we can do.

A quick, simple, and low-cost communication audit will reveal opportunities for simplifying. We’ll take a look at presentation decks, proposals, analyses and/or internal comms. From there, you’ll know where improvement will get you the greatest gains. You can then decide to address the opportunity yourself and talk with us about a training or coaching solution.

Photo credit: Jirapong Manustrong/Getty Images


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