When you go to the doctor, you want her to be smarter than you about whatever ails you. Thankfully, even though she has impressive degrees and expertise, she doesn’t say, “I have ascertained that you’re temporarily experiencing a contagious viral upper respiratory tract infection.”

She says, “You have a cold.”

While everyone appreciates such straight talk as a patient, many business executives forget that approach as soon as they leave the doctor’s office. They think they’re enhancing the stature of their company by using fancy words and mumbo-jumbo in presentations, advertising, interviews and other communications.

Maybe, without realizing it, that’s you. There are three easy ways to tell, which we’ll get to in a moment.

First, here’s an example of the kind of statements that are all too rampant: Our thought leaders have embarked on a forward-looking initiative to leverage our pivot to gustatory system enhancements.

That actually means something. Raise your hand if you have any clue what it is. At best, that company is confusing its customers. At worst, it’s making them feel stupid. Since when are either of those a good idea? Everyone would have understood if the message had been, “We’re adding a new flavor.”

To be fair, most business people don’t realize they’re doing this. They’re not trying to show off their intelligence. Somewhere along the way, they simply began thinking that impressive-sounding words make their business sound more impressive.

Here’s how to tell if you’re being too smart for your company’s own good:

1. Using industry jargon with outsiders – This is the most common error, and we’ve all done it. Our colleagues know our industry’s terminology, but we often forget that the rest of the world doesn’t.

Do you know what CPI and ADA mean? Maybe. But each has a different definition in at least three different fields, further increasing the chances for confusion.

This is an easy fix: Just imagine you’re new to your own industry. Would you grasp everything you’re now saying? If not, keep scaling back the insider stuff until your intended audience can understand you.

2. Overpacking – This is when we think we need to put every notable detail into one sentence. (Political hacks on cable news shows are famous for this.) The company’s top goal for the year? Let’s include it. Our advantages over the competition? Of course. That buzzword we learned at a seminar? Jam it in at the end.

Pretty soon you have both mumbo and jumbo, and your audience quits paying attention somewhere around the sentence’s fifth comma.

This is also an easy fix: Force yourself to create one of those 20-second elevator speeches. It might drive you crazy, because you think you can’t possibly cover everything important in such a short amount of time. Yes, you can.

3. Being too polished – This is usually found in formal, carefully-structured statements, often as quotes in news releases. The spokespeople certainly seem educated. They perfectly deliver the company line. And they sound incredibly stiff.

Sometimes that’s intentional, because an attorney has advised that information needs to be presented a certain way. Fair enough. But spokespeople would be more believable and likable if they included things like “we’re not half bad” or “that dog won’t hunt” in their quotes.

Again, they’re (probably) not trying to sound stuffy. They’ve simply become too accustomed to corporate-speak and think everyone talks that way. Luckily, there’s also an easy fix for this: Knock it off.


Well? Did you see yourself in any of these examples? If so, perhaps we should verbally interface. Or we could just talk.