My grandmother has a set number of stories that cycle ‘round like the seasons; lots of grandmothers do it, and I’m glad that, at 92, she’s as prolific as ever.
One of the stories involves a version of “The House That Jack Built” but recited as formally as possible. She’s always said that her father used to recite it to her. It’s called “The Domiciliary Abode Constructed By John,” and it goes something like this…
“This is the domiciliary abode constructed by John
This is the curdled milk product that lay in the domiciliary abode constructed by John
This is the Ratus norvegicus specimen that consumed the curdled milk product
That lay in the domiciliary abode constructed by John”
And so it goes on.
As a child it delighted me. Like the classic “I chased a bug around a tree…” repeated very quickly, it played with language and expectation and I think this is when I started getting interested in forms of communication. The way one form of language is used in a formal setting and another is used in an informal setting fascinated me. I used to get told off for using the dialect “Ay-Up” as a greeting when meeting friends of my parents; I knew I should have been more formal, but didn’t understand why.
Language choice matters, it shows our socio-economic grouping, our cultural background and how we view ourselves. I’ve put together five guidelines on finding the right language for your presentation.
1) Be authentic.
Most of us have had the painful experience of an authority figure coming into our school and trying to talk like us. Don’t be that person — if you’re not comfortable adopting an audience’s voice, then don’t. I remember seeing the late Labour Party Leader John Smith being interviewed by a group of children asking him about popular cultural figures, bands and the like. “I’m a politician, I don’t know who these people are, and that’s a good thing’ was the tone of his response. Why should he? He didn’t fake it, or get a spin doctor involved; he was authentic in his response.
2) Avoid journalese.
Because we’re consumers of mass journalism, we pick up the language, and it seems acceptable. It isn’t, even for journalists. No one is a “budding” anything, costs don’t “skyrocket” no one is an “innocent bystander” and there has never been an “eleventh hour” “mercy dash” by “hero” firemen to “tackle a blaze.” It shows a lack of imagination and a penchant for the over dramatic.
3) Be mindful.
I’m unfashionable enough to think that political correctness is a good thing. It shows that you’re respectful, and when you’re presenting to a mass of unseen contacts over the web, you need to make sure your language reflects that. However, check your language first, Google it, ask a colleague if you’re not sure. For example, “wheelchair user” good, “wheelchair bound” bad. “Black” fine “BAME communities” better.
4) Say what you mean.
You should never assume that if you’re presenting in a shared language, you have shared idioms. If I said that my colleagues were “mardy because it was black over Bill’s mothers.” Would you understand that they were grumpy due to black clouds in the distance? Possibly not — it’s best to just say it.
5) Anything from this list:
Going forward, at the end of the day, at this moment in time, passion (how I hate passion), blue-sky thinking, out of the box, thought shower, touch base, put a pin in it, challenging, 360-degree anything, paradigm shift, run it up the flagpole, cascading, communications stream, inform and incentivise. Stop it, just stop it now.
Language in presentations needs to be clear, concise and mindful.
Maybe I should have started with that.