I am British, and spend the majority of my working life dealing with British, American and Canadian customers, partners and audiences. Much as it pains me, US English is a real thing, as are Canadian, Aussie, Kiwi, and Caribbean English, along with other variations on the language I grew up with.
I have had to accept that in many cases the same word means different things in different countries, or may not even exist. To some of you, the sentence “I do not like avocados because they are claggy,” makes perfect sense. The rest of you are still trying to work out exactly what I meant.
If US readers assumed “claggy” meant “creamy and delicious,” you were wrong.
One of our main areas of focus, in all types of communication, is making things as easy as possible for the audience to process and understand. In a world where the likelihood of distraction is ever increasing, this is more important than ever.
In any scenario, you are probably working with three or four distinct languages. For simplicity’s sake, let’s assume that both the presenter and audience speak English as their first language.
National or Regional Differences
Certain phrases get lost, not in translation, but in interpretation. Coming back into a meeting after a break and saying “Right, let’s crack on,” does not hurry an American group along. Similarly, telling a British person that you, “office in Dallas,” will be met with a very perplexed look. In both cases we can usually figure out what the speaker means, but we have to work harder to get there..
You don’t want the audience to work harder than it has to.
So pay attention to national and regional differences. Even trivial corrections will help. For example, if you are presenting to British people, you say “maths,” whilst (while) Americans prefer to hear you say “math.” Limeys finish the alphabet by saying X, Y, Zed; the Yanks end it with X, Y, Zee.
Your Company Language
Every company has its own language. Even here at Chainsaw we have ways of talking to each other that will make little or no sense to anyone else. (ProTip: Multiple viewings of Will Ferrell’s Anchorman movies will keep you in the Chainsaw loop.)
For larger corporations, this challenge is magnified. You may work for a large corporation now, or perhaps you have in the past. Think back to when you first started, and how long it took you to tune into internal conversations. Now, imagine that you are a client or prospect trying to pay attention to what’s being said. Your audience must work harder to put jargon in context, and parse out what exactly you mean.
Your Industry Language
Your industry may have a whole selection of phrases and terms that make perfect sense, whether a peer works for your company or not. Often it is all too easy to forget that your customers don’t work in your industry—that’s why they come to you in the first place! They are looking for products, services or expertise that they cannot access on their own.
I was introduced into the corporate travel industry a few years ago, and doing a good job of holding my own in a meeting until the phrase “hotel attachment” came up. I looked around the room, and everyone else seemed totally comfortable with the term. I spent the next several minutes trying to figure it out (and was therefore no longer paying attention to the conversation).
Finally, I had to interrupt the meeting and ask. Turns out that hotel attachment is simply getting more travelers to book their hotel at the same time they book their flights.
Easy enough to understand, but you don’t want your audience to have to go that extra mile (or 1.61 kilometers). Avoid or explain jargon when you can.
Untangling subtly different terminology can help you communicate as clearly and directly as possible.
Your Clients’ Language
We began with the mission of using language to make communication as easy as possible for your audience. So, pay attention when your client uses specific words for important things. Be aware of their own regional, industry, or corporate jargon, and try to use it when communicating with them.
Some companies have employees, some have associates and some even have teammates. At Disney everyone is a cast member, even if they work in the back office! If you know the correct title, you’ll communicate more easily with everyone at the company, no matter what they call themselves.
It is always good to leave the client feeling that you talk their language!