Presentations: How to Use Jargon Without Sounding Like a Jerk

Posted by Bridget Beirne
January 14, 2014

If I said to you, "I went to Equity for a 12:OO EPA for the new season at TUTS. The AD and the MD weren't in the room, but the ACD was. It went well, I have a callback at 4.", what would you think?

Every profession, company, corporation, corporate culture, club, etc has it's own jargon- the individual terms, acronyms, and phraseology that create the language of a certain group. That jargon is a very important part of the communication within an organization. Using these terms and phrases can be a unifying force- it makes everyone "in the know" feel that they are part of a team. It can convey bigger ideas quickly, as with acronyms, and "brand" other.

However, jargon gets tricky if there is anyone on the receiving end that doesn't speak the language. For example, the opening sentence of this post contains some of the jargon that professional actors use all of the time. If you happened to recognize any of the terms used (if so, great!), it was probably easy to skim through. But if you're unfamiliar with the phraseology, it was probably at the least a waste of time or at the worst a bit frustrating. What can be a unifying force when everyone is on the same page can exclude people who are not.

Even if you think everyone you are speaking with or presenting to knows every term you use, there is a chance that someone does not.  Not every professional actor knows what all of the jargon used above means, and that's ok. Perhaps your company owns many, many brands or products- the people who represent one may not know the ins and outs of the vocabulary for another. If you ramble on in your own "language" and don't include everyone, you can come off as a bit of a jerk. But this doesn't mean that you should never use any jargon again- the key to using jargon is making sure that you define it.

Sometimes, people feel uncomfortable with the idea of defining these terms. "Everyone knows what I'm saying!" or "My audience will feel as though I think they are dumb" are common responses to this idea. The good news is there is a way to use jargon, define it and include everyone in your audience, and keep from sounding like a jerk.

First, start by acknowledging the need to define the jargon. If you know your presentation includes a lot of jargon, you can mention it at the top. When you set the expectations for your audience, and acknowledge that you will be taking the time to define terms for those in the audience who may not know, everyone is aware of what's coming. Those who DO know the terms will understand that you aren't speaking down to them, and those who might not be familiar will feel that you truly want to communicate your content to everyone, including them.

Try this, during the Housekeeping section of your Introduction: "I know I will be using a lot of industry specific terms today. For those of you who are familiar with our jargon, please know that I will be defining these terms as we go in the interest of ensuring that we are all on the same page."

Secondly, there are 2 good options for defining the jargon when it arises. Option 1 is to define, then use. In this option, you would explain what you are talking about, then let everyone know what the jargon is. For example, to use a term from above, you might say "I'm a member of Actor's Equity Association, which we refer to as "Equity" or "AEA". A seamless integration of terms.

Try this: "I'm going to discuss [definition], which we call [jargon]."

Option 2 is to use the jargon, then define it, which is just what it sounds like. Say you're introducing a new drug named Ovation Communicrit. But everyone on your team refers to it as O-Crit. Toss out the jargon, then define it smoothly: "Here's the third quarter projection for O-Crit, or Ovation Communicrit."

Try this: "I'm going to discuss [jargon], which is another name for [definition]."

Lastly, feel free to build in a reminder whenever you can. That will give your audience another opportunity to catch anything that they may have missed. You can mention that you've already covered this ground, but that you're just reminding anyone who may have missed it. 

Try this: "This is in regards to [jargon]. Just a quick reminder, [jargon] is how we refer to [definition].

If your message is important enough to want to communicate, it's important for everyone who hears it to understand everything you're saying. Still feel out in the cold about the opening sentences? Here, let me define it for you: 

"I went to Actor's Equity Association, or "Equity", for a 12:00 EPA for the new season at TUTS, which is Theatre Under the Stars. An EPA is shorthand for an "Equity Principal Audition". The Artistic Director, or "AD", and the Music Director, or "MD" weren't in the room, but the Associate Casting Director was. We call that the ACD.  It went well- I have a callback, or a second audition, at 4"



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