Business speak in business writing: four reasons not to use it

Corporate lingo, management jargon, business speak … whatever you choose to call it, just don’t use it. It’s confusing, alienating, unproductive and embarrassing.  (Guest post by Simplified business writing trainer, Melissa Davidson)

I knew I’d truly arrived on the corporate scene when a manager asked me to bake a new product name into our marketing collateral by engaging with key stakeholders and leveraging their core competencies to execute on the deliverable…

… and I understood this as an instruction to ask our legal and communications departments to change a product name in our marketing material and client contracts.

As this example shows, business speak is a complex and usually ridiculous way of saying something that’s actually quite straightforward.

Although it’s sometimes called ‘business jargon’, business speak is not the same as jargon. Jargon is language that is specific to a particular subject or group of people. Nuclear physicists, cyclists, opera singers and skateboarders each have a set of jargon that’s understood in their particular context and helps them communicate effectively. When jargon is used outside its specific context, it must be explained for the outsiders.
Business speak, on the other hand, is just a nonsensical string of words that are intended to make the writer sound impressive. However, the words together create meaningless phrases and sentences and baffle the reader.

Business speak is just a nonsensical string of words that are intended to make the writer sound impressive.

If you want to know how to write in business speak, there are bountiful websites that allow you to generate random and meaningless management-speak phrases at the click of a button. However, there are some good reasons why you should avoid business speak in business writing:

1. It’s confusing

Use clear, plain English to explain concepts and give instructions. This will be more effective than asking people to socialise ideated paradigms or cascade key information at critical touchpoints.

2. It’s alienating

People who don’t understand corporate speak may not always be able to ask you to explain what you mean. Shareholders who read annual reports riddled with vague corporate promises can’t pick up the phone and ask the CEO to clarify the company’s strategy.

Customers will be unlikely to sign up for a loyalty programme if you email them about your plans to engage brand evangelists by proactively leveraging existing partnerships to innovate product offerings going forward.

3. It’s unproductive

A senior manager I worked with used to send us emails listing the latest buzzwords he’d heard in meetings, and what he thought they meant.
My closest friends in the cubicles were those who enjoyed having conversations or writing emails using only corporate speak, purely for entertainment. Every day, in companies across the globe, there are employees who are in engaging in buzzword bingo instead of doing real work.

4. It’s embarrassing

The Forbes list of the Most Annoying Business Jargon warns that using this corporate speak ‘makes you sound like a complete moron’.

Don’t be that person. Just say what you mean, simply and clearly.