Should Trainers Speak in Buzzwords?

As soon as you begin a presentation and you turn out to be wrong (in the case of statistics), or unintelligible (in the case of the Jargon Trap), people begin to mentally step back from you. And if they do that, they have lost the message and you have lost the game.

I was unreasonably excited last Friday when our office mail person delivered the latest copy of Training Magazine to my cube.  I had signed up to receive the magazine several weeks ago, but this is the first copy that I have received.  My manager pointed me to their website for a free Adobe Captivate webinar a while back, and I realized that not only do they offer an extensive array of free webinars, they also offer good information via their blogs and their magazine.  I dove into the magazine this weekend, and needless to say there were a lot of articles that gave me some new perspective and ideas.

One of the articles in the magazine that struck a chord with me was from their Soapbox section, where Tim Toterhi (author of The Introverts Guide to Job Hunting) wrote a piece titled Go Beyond Buzzwords.  He begins the article by talking about trainers getting caught up in the catchphrases and un-researched statistics we’ve probably all heard before from many motivational speakers and in numerous sales pitches.  The perfect example is something like “92% of communication is non-verbal” used in order to emphasize the importance of being physically confident when giving presentations and training sessions while neglecting to mention the fact that the research this story came from a study that actually proved the ability of people to detect when something is wrong when the verbal message delivered clashes with the body language the speaker uses.  Tim points out that we live, “In a world where actual answers are but a Web click away…” and thus there is no excuse for trainers falling into these catch phrases and faulty statistics.

He then goes into other traps he’s frequently seen trainers fall into, including Tired Platitudes like “Most people fear change” and New Fads like “Leading from the front” (which is something that instantly makes me roll my eyes when I hear it, and unfortunately I hear it frequently in the corporate world).  But the part of the article that caught my attention was where Tim talked about trainers falling into The Jargon Trap.  I can give you no better description of The Jargon Trap than the introduction provided by the author himself:

If I hear one more trainer try to manufacture a connection with business-minded program participants by discussion the big picture impact of reducing silos in an effort to enhance departmental synergy and create more bandwidth so we can better leverage our customer-focused client portfolio, I may have to take the conversation off-line and empower myself to proactively leverage some psychological resources before the force-fed paradigm shift lands me in the loony bin.

Oh, how many times have we seen this?  Or heard this?  Or tried not to either laugh out loud or fall asleep when being force-fed statements like this?  Even if you can follow this jargon-fest and translate it into actual English, do you ever wonder what purpose it serves?  Is the speaker just trying to impress you with their knowledge?  Are they ill-prepared and just throwing these buzzwords out there to try to fill up time in their speaking engagement?  These are just a few things I wonder when I hear statements full of jargon.  I know I’m not the only one to experience this unfortunate phenomenon; this recent Grammarly Blog chronicles work jargon we all wish would disappear.  And who hasn’t sat in a session at conferences or conventions and had the presentation make about as much sense as the song Mission Statement from Weird Al Yankovic’s Mandatory Fun album.


Now luckily I haven’t heard any trainers lapse into the Jargon Trap, but I’ve heard plenty of consultants/motivational speakers/college graduation speakers dwell almost exclusively in this trap.  But I can say that I fully see the danger in not only the Jargon Trap, but also in the other faux pas’ the author records in this story.  It is important for trainers (and I would argue for consultants/motivational speakers/graduation speakers et al.) to avoid these, if for no other reason than the fact that it alienates the audience from you.  As soon as you begin a presentation and you turn out to be wrong (in the case of statistics), or unintelligible (in the case of the Jargon Trap), people begin to mentally step back from you.  And if they do that, they have lost the message and you have lost the game.

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