About the risk of using too many buzz words in our communication. 

Meetings and presentations can be fun, interesting and engaging. They also can be a painful exercise, especially when executives and senior managers communicate from inside a bubble, stringing together over-used buzzwords and reading from overloaded PowerPoint presentations, rather than engaging with the audience. Just a cliché or a real potential problem?

Working as a business coach provides the unique opportunity to experience meetings in boards, leadership teams, committees, project team meetings or with staff. As a coach, my job is to prepare managers and Board members for their communication. Once the meeting has started, my task is to step back, observe interaction between presenter and audience and to provide feedback.

Particularly in change programs, communication is key to create acceptance, commitment and ownership within the organization. High performing managers embrace a leadership style that emphasizes on team collaboration, bold aspirations and accountability. Great communicators  create the right buzz around change by engaging the broader organization. Rather than spamming everyone with generic communications, leaders instead cascade a compelling change story through the entire business. It’s a difficult balance: the core message must be meaningful to as broad a range of the workforce as possible yet also be personal and relevant.

One of the most common pitfalls for any presentation is „talking in a bubble“. Using phrases and buzzwords which might be meaningful in the mind of the presenter, but either make it hard for the audience to understand the content of the matter or to see the relevance of the topic. 

Phrases like “we need to work smarter not harder”, „this will be a paradigm shift“ or  „we need to create synergies with strategic partners, go for comprehensive solutions in a participatory approach which ensures ownerships of key stakeholders while keeping the big picture in view and walk the talk – but in an agile way“ are absolute killers for an engaged discussion. They actually make people angry. You can literally read peoples faces as they ask themselves, “Does

the presenter have a clue about the topic?” Or even „Why am I listening to this? Do I really have to?“. 

Here are our actual top 10 for buzzword mania in meetings and presentations which have the potential to get an audience REALLY angry: 

  1. Best practice
  2. Human-centred 
  3. Streamline 
  4. Paradigm shift
  5. At the end of the day…
  6. Synergies
  7. Ownership
  8. Analysis paralysis
  9. Eco system
  10. Negative growth 

Why do we get into situations, where our mouth runs on auto-pilot, producing expressions which are commonly used, but often meaningless? Often the answer is: LACK OF PREPARATION. 

Looking at the root causes, here are a few tips you might find useful:

1. What are the objectives of your presentation?

What do you want to get as a result of your presentation? What should the audience do? Do you seek approval? Do you want to gain support for the extra mile which people have to go? Are you presenting an achievement? Based on your objectives and target audience, your presentation should be tailor-made in regards to messaging and choice of words. Having experts and managers running from presentation to presentation and using the same presentation for different audiences and objectives, is often a recipe for failure.  

2. Sell the benefit: Build Relevance for the Audience

What is you target group? What are your key messages? How are these messages relevant for your audience. If you want your audience to listen, talk about the effects an issue have, rather than explaining technical details. Why is it important to address a particular problem? What are the consequences for your audience? 

3. Practical Demonstration before Theory Slides

How can you best attract the attention of your audience? The answer is not a 30 minute PowerPoint movie with font size 14. The answer is a demonstration. You are talking about the positive changes that the new country eye screening programme can do? Show it. Wherever you can, let people touch, see feel your initiative and how it relates to their work. If you decide to use visual support on the screen, go for simple pictures rather than theory slides. 

4. Build simple structure, use visualization (What? Why? How?)

Your presentation should enable the audience to understand 1. What are we talking about (avoid technical terms where possible), 2 Why is this relevant (what are the benefits for the audience)? and 3. How will the task be solved (avoid technical details, highlight concrete contributions required from the audience). Developing a simple structure takes time. It is an investment, which pays off quickly. Simplification and focus. „Here are the 18 biggest improvements of our new approach to program planning.“ Such a presentation would of course make your audiences brain explode. Professional presenters focus on key messages, which are most relevant for your target audience. Science recommends to slice presentations in 3 items. A solution could be „Our new programme methodology provides over 18 ground breaking improvements compared with the classic approach. Here are the top three…“ 

5. Inspire your audience

Exceptional managers and experts close their presentations with something uplifting and inspiring. Their presentations are relevant, engaging, entertaining, and informative. So can you. It takes work, planning, and creativity, but if someone is willing to listen to your ideas it’s worth the effort to make it great.

Our coaches is a mental sparing partner in the preparation of communication. Contact us for more information.

Markus Hesse

Markus has worked as executive, coach, consultant, project manager and sponsor on more than 250 projects in a variety of industries for Fortune 500 and mid- sized companies. He combines more than 17 years of experience in senior and executive management of international organisations with a track record as a business consultant. His educational background includes a M.A. in Business Coaching and Change Management. Markus is author for the EURO-FH university in Hamburg on change management and an accredited member of the European Association of Supervision and Coaching.