When Jargon Is a Good Thing

Ann All

I've blogged several times about the communication gap between the business and IT and the problems it can cause. In this example of a nightmare quote from an Oracle press release, a Norwegian CIO tells why his company plans to use the new product:

... (it) will help us to rapidly deploy high-demand IP services, such as level 3 virtual private networks, multicast and quality of service over our IP/MPLS network.

Alrighty, then. It's easy to see how a business executive (or just about anyone else, really) could be confused by this. That's why IT folks are often advised to couch technical explanations in terms the business can understand. Though it sounds simple, it can be a challenge. How would you explain "virtualization" or "dual core" to a broad audience, for example? This July 2006 BusinessWeek article offers some great advice from Intel, the company behind the catchy (and descriptive) "Intel inside" slogan. It boils down to three great points:

  • Present the problem before offering the solution.
  • Cut the jargon.
  • Use tangible, real-world examples of how the technology can be used.

The article includes a great example: two definitions of "multi-core" from the company's consumer-education manager, one geared toward techies and the other for the rest of us. The latter definition:

Every personal computer has a brain chip, or microprocessor. Until recently, these chips had one processing core, or brain. The latest buzz in Silicon Valley is all about so-called dual-core brain chips for PCs. Dual-core microprocessors have two brains instead of one. With all of this divide-and-conquer power, a twin-brain processor allows you to do a lot of fun and productive things simultaneously.

While the techie definition says the same thing, it presents the chief advantage of multi-core chips as their ability to "take more data and simultaneously process the data into rich multimedia content at a faster rate."


Though such jargon doesn't appear to serve much purpose, jargon isn't always a bad thing, as this strategy+business article nicely illustrates.


Using functional or industry jargon (terms widely known throughout an industry but not commonly known to others) can save time and boost efficiency. (Just think how little would get done if developers had to explain a term like "service-oriented architecture" every time they used it.) Organizational jargon, lingo common to a particular company or group within a company, can help build a sense of community and get organizational concepts across more clearly. Less helpful, says the article, are mass buzzwords like "synergy" and "blue sky."


Says Suzanne Bates, author of "Speak Like a CEO: Secrets for Commanding Attention and Getting Results":

The biggest mistake executives and professionals make is to fail to ask themselves if what they're saying is the best way to communicate to the audience that they're targeting.

One sign that you are communicating effectively: Your audience asks questions appropriate to the subject matter. If you get questions that seem out of context, or no questions at all, you may need to revise your message. Another good piece of advice: Be careful not to oversimplify. If your audience is well versed in the topic at hand, not using jargon may make them uncomfortable.

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Add Comment      Leave a comment on this blog post
Apr 2, 2008 10:02 AM Rob Rob  says:
Hi Ann,thanks for the interesting post. One thing I would suggest is that the presenter doesn't always know the makeup of their audience before the arrive. I have been asked, on short notice to 'come on out' to some potential client, and give them a presentation on some specific subject. Often I arrive and have to guage the audience as the presentation progresses. It's perhaps optimistic to believe that the presenter will know how to pitch their presentation, and i do agree that the wrong level can take a long time to repair. Reply

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