Buzzwords Gone Bad

If I could erase one buzzword from our language, it might be convergence. Or maybe shout out, networking, killer app, change agent or out of the box. We all have words or phrases that annoy us, even if they were clever the first 10 times we heard them.

Typically defined as a word or phrase that gains popularity for a period of time, buzzwords usually have little real meaning but are often peppered throughout organizational communications. (And we're all guilty of using them.) It isn't so much that buzzwords don't have a rightful space and place—as they certainly do. It's that overusing these words makes your communications sound watered down, and in many cases, cliché.

According to LinkedIn, the 10 most overused words on LinkedIn company pages during 2015 were: “expert, solution, leading, unique, value, vision, expertise, innovative, creative and strategic.” Similarly, Accountemps has polled executives for several years about words they wish they could obliterate from the workplace.

So, what buzzword would you erase? That question was asked in an Accountemps poll of more than 600 executives. More specifically, they were quizzed: “What is the most annoying or overused phrase or buzzword in the workplace today?” Their top responses included, “out of pocket," "deep dive," "forward thinking," "dynamic" and "employee engagement."

How to Lose the Buzz

Unfortunately, these buzzwords become part of our company lingo, and often the company culture. While it can be difficult to remove such jargon, buzzwords should, at best, be limited. Here are a few ideas to minimize the buzzwords and maximize your meaning:

Create Connection, Not Confusion: Customers and influencers want to feel a connection with your brand. They want value for their investment. Buzzwords are toxic to this relationship and your audience will see right through them. Trusted partnerships are built on commonalities and honestly, but buzzwords are intentionally vague and used with the hope of sounding smart or stopping questions.

Write Your Proposals to Win: Proposals filled with consultant- or sales-speak often drive prospects to the competition faster than you can say “paradigm shift.” Scrutinize every word in a proposal and strip out empty phrases, tired superlatives and the plague of pronouns. In the war of words, your best weapon is the delete key.

Avoid the Spam Folder: Emails need to be useful to the reader. Get to the point and stick with the facts. Use simple, common words. Make certain, too, your content is correctly described by the subject line. Generally a single use of a word like “free” won’t land you in spam, but if you have too many words like that, they can add up and get your email penalized. According to MailChimp, words like “Help,” “Percent Off” and “Reminder” will not land you in a spam filter (by themselves), but tend to decrease open rates. To test if your emails will be caught by filters, consider these services: Litmus or Email Spam Test.

Keep the Tech Speak When You Need It: Buzzwords are not the same as technical terminology. While technical lingo and acronyms can be uninteresting to read and hear, these technical terms are generally significant to the discussion – adding clarity to a topic. The key is using these words within context and using common words around them. A good rule of thumb is to ask yourself, "what am I really trying to say?" For example, explain how or why you "bring a competitive advantage," don't just say you do.

Consider this recent conversation with a friend.

He had just been right sized (laid off) for being siloed (completely separated with little communication between) over his progressive (liberal) ideation (process of finding ideas). I thought he had been drinking the Kool-Aid (trusting in things offered by authority figures) and eating his own dog food (use a product yourself which you sell to others). Co-workers suggested he should be more open kimono (transparent) in discussions. Even though his work was in the red zone (critical time of nearly completing a project), he often shook that bear (forcefully drove a dead issue) resulting in his role being completely offshored (outsourced to another part of the world).

“At the end of the day,” he clearly didn’t have the “secret sauce” or proactively devise the right “exit strategy.” Consider it a “lesson learned.” Touché!

Randy E. Pruett is an Accredited Business Communicator and serves as Programs and Events Manager with Pierpont Communications. Connect with Randy on LinkedIn