Public relations

Stop tech jargonauts: stamping out tech jargon

Written by Laura Pride

17 January 2020


Working in tech PR we’re surrounded by acronyms, industry buzzwords and jargon. But is our familiarity and acceptance of tech jargon potentially having a damaging effect on our ability to connect with our customers, achieve future business success and develop long-term working relationships? Here at Berkeley Communications it’s leaving a sour taste in our mouths, so we’ve decided to try and stamp the tech jargonauts who’re repeat offenders of these industry buzzwords with our #StopTechJargon campaign.

A slippery slope

Do your eyes glaze over as the management speak and corporate BS kicks into a meeting or conversation you’re part of? Do you find yourself scrolling past social media posts littered with buzzwords that turn your skin cold?

Industry jargon can be a real turnoff, but are you also guilty of using it? I know I am. Sometimes it even slips out at home, to much eye rolling from my family as ‘mum kicks into work mode’. But do you ever find yourself using words and phrases in external communications that have no meaning to the average person on the street? If so, why are you using it? The prevalence of tech jargon in marketing is difficult to escape. So what on earth can we do to turn the tide?

Rallying against it can sometimes feel like the preserve of linguists. An argument around semantics and personal preference for certain terminology.

But in the case of tech jargon, it needs to be tackled for a far more compelling reason – it costs credibility, alienates potential buyers and influencers, and affects the bottom line.

Tech jargon – an irrational choice

Many people have called the issue out, but still it persists. When you talk through the implications of over-using tech jargon, it’s completely logical to want to stop. But if you’re surrounded by it day in, day out, and it’s the accepted vernacular in the workplace and with clients, it’s incredibly easy to slip back into the habit. The language used in meetings, technical acronyms, and painful analogies all start to seep into our own vocabulary which is why it remains so prevalent.

Critically, when we over-use jargon, we stop ourselves from being able to tell stories effectively, and storytelling is at the very heart of effective communication. It enables us to engage an audience, to change hearts and minds, and to drive action.

Product specs, acronyms and verbose language are never going to have this impact.

Why do we use tech jargon?

Tech jargon often starts life as shorthand to speed things up and clarify complex matters. It’s used amongst a group of people who have detailed knowledge of a given situation.

While I try to avoid this at all costs and in meetings particularly, a formal crack down during internal meetings is just as likely to give rise to a new list of accepted terms, a company-wide way of talking to resolve the matter!

What I’m more interested in, is raising awareness that these linguistic shortcuts don’t work when they are taken out of context. Specifically, they create a barrier if they are used outside the original team or, worse still, used in external communications.

There are deep-seated reasons human beings default to jargon though, and it’s important to appreciate them. Typically, jargon comes into play because:

  • We don’t want people to know what we’re doing. Maybe it’s a sensitive project. Perhaps it’s something we don’t want to face questions on from management. Either way, there are ways in which we try to counter this by masking it through acronyms, code names or otherwise oblique references.
  • We want to stand out as different. I think this is where marketing has to hold its hands up. Finding different language to describe something that’s identical to another product or service, bar the badge it carries, often results in the creation of new terms. Some of those are truly cringeworthy. Often, they’re used specifically so it’s harder to compare on a like-for-like basis.
  • We want people to think we know what we’re talking about. It’s the linguistic equivalent of trying to show you’re ‘sic’ but getting it all wrong. The unfortunate misappropriation of LOL in text messages because you think it means ‘lots of love’ rather than ‘laugh out loud’. We want others to think that we know what we’re saying. But we often don’t.
  • We don’t even know we’re doing it. OK, I admit it. Jargon use is not always a conscious decision. Many of us slip into it unwittingly, partly because we’re surrounded by it. But being increasingly aware of when we are doing it is a powerful skill to develop.

Stemming the tide

If you’re wondering how to break the cycle of tech jargon, it can be a tricky thing to lead the change. However, the good news is that there are some cast iron principles that you can follow to keep the momentum going. They require that you base your communication on:

Compulsion: Know you audience and what makes them tick. Adopt the tone and language they use to shape how you communicate to them.

Accessibility: Use language that minimises the likelihood of creating a barrier between you and the people you want to reach. Keep your communication simple and jargon-free. Cross check everything before you send, publish or present.

Relatability: Don’t tell and sell. Show your understanding of your audience’s needs in what you communicate. Substantiate it with data whenever you can.

And with these principles guiding your communications – be that presentations, web copy, customer case studies, email marketing, social media content or press releases – you have the foundations in place to tell great stories.

Join our campaign!

Do you have corporate BS or tech jargon horror stories? Get involved now and share them with #StopTechJargon on LinkedIn and Twitter.