The English have a saying ‘It’s all Greek to me’. It means: I have understood so little of what you’re saying that it is as if you are speaking to me in a foreign language. Have you ever felt like that when listening to a speaker?
I know that this is often experienced, for instance, at a workshop or a conference, especially where the subject matter being delivered is IT related. Sometimes, as an audience member, I find the content delivery engrossing, only to look around me to notice blank or puzzled expressions amongst some of my fellow listeners, especially those newer to the industry. In the IT sector, we speakers can quite easily let our enthusiasm run away and find ourselves using IT shorthand and jargon, which can sometimes be received as Geek Speak in so far as audience understanding goes. Quite like speaking in Japanese to a room full of Hungarians! As a Hungarian I can say that I would definitely have trouble with understanding anything in Japanese.
‘Jargonese’ is something most of us tend to use within our areas of work. The challenge is in being mindful when communicating to audiences outside or new to our section. Translating our messages into layman’s terms is crucial, whether we are delivering spoken, or written content.
A hallmark of my work has been a consciousness of this and an ability to write my speech and publishing content so that anyone can grasp concepts and messages. I believe this is what has led to many of the international speaking engagements and the opportunities that I have had — or at least, it has been a significant contributing factor. It’s also an important ability when I require input from sources outside of my usual sphere of operations.
For instance, with book publishing. I am not a professional author of books, an editor or a publisher. When I first started discussions with those who can provide me with the necessary assistance and guidance, their initial reaction was to express the worry that they would not sufficiently understand the content. I was able to say confidently, ‘Don’t worry, I write in layman’s terms’ that came as a relief to everyone.
It is one thing to be a great specialist in your subject, but quite another to be able to communicate your subject effectively. So, if we want to be heard and understood by a wide audience, we need to drop the jargon — whatever our chosen field.