Category Archives: Business Communication

Weasel Word Wednesday #23 – infographic

I would like to see an infographic charting the exponential rise of the word ‘infographic’.

Information graphics are not new, of course. And yes, they do help to communicate complex information quickly and clearly. But suddenly, every PR, advertising and design agency is touting them as the must-have element in any communication activity (and of course, their expertise in producing them).  Their clients are buying it. Every media release must be accompanied by one. Every second ‘tweet’ (it seems) is about the latest cool infographic. New blogs have sprung up dedicated to shining examples of the art of the infographic. Luckily, to keep us all amused and ‘Friday Funny’ jokes email circulars going, there are also many examples of bad infographics that communicate something other than the intended message. One of my favourites was a sign we saw in Bendigo, Victoria some years ago.


Weasel Word Wednesday #22 – gifted

I have noticed more businesses using ‘to gift’ instead of ‘to give’, and worse, ‘gifted’ instead of ‘given’. It often relates to a donation or gimmicky corporate gift. Nothing in particular to say about this one except: it grates, please stop using it. Unless you are referring to someone with exceptional abilities, that is.

Weasel Word Wednesday #20 – cadence

In a sales meeting a few weeks ago, I heard at least three different presenters use the word ‘cadence’, more than once. My weasel word antennae shot up. From the context, I couldn’t work out what it meant… something about doing something quickly, regularly or in a timely fashion?  Then it came up again in a company meeting yesterday, this time from HR.

A quick look in the Macquarie dictionary tells me:

cadence n. 1. rhythmic flow, as of verses; rhythm. 2. the beat of any rhythmical movement. 3. a fall in the pitch of the voice, as in speaking. 4. the general modulation of the voice. 5.  Music a sequence of notes or chords which indicate the momentary or complete end of a composition, section, phrase, etc.

From that definition, I can’t see any reason for it to be used it a business context, other than to hide the truth, confuse or attempt to impress. A perfect example of a weasel word. Here it is in context in extracts from a white paper written for sales executives:

[X]… should provide focused service delivery against KIs and have a regular communication cadence with the [salesperson]

Follow the cadence as outlined in the [X]  methodology (e.g. review meetings every 3 to 6 months), once the relationship has been established.

Next time I see the folk who used it I will ask them what it means. I’m looking forward to the answers already!

A bullfighter’s guide to fighting bull

I have finally read  ‘Why business people speak like idiots – A bullfighter’s guide‘, which has been sitting on my shelf for a few months. Crappy presentation clip-art like the bullfighter here is one of the many aspects of poor business communication that the authors are fighting against.

Far from focusing on corporate-speak as I expected, this is a book about action. The authors identify four reasons why business people turn into ‘business idiots’ as they call them. I am not sure that I buy these reasons. But I love their practical examples of how to cut the bull and get real. Tell stories, pick up the phone (don’t email and copy the world), keep a sense of humour, show that you are human, tell the bad news. Recognise that most people are so bored at [insert business meeting here] and your job is to entertain. Otherwise, what is going on inside the heads of your audience is a whole lot more interesting than what you are presenting.

Words and tone do feature prominently of course. And all of us are guilty. It is only through awareness that we can remove the ‘bull’ from business conversations. Here are some I know I have been guilty of saying: touch base, deliverable, deck, thought leadership. Some I hear a lot in my company: reach out, utilise, transformation, align. And I knew I could smell ‘bull’ when people at work started talking about establishing a ‘centre of excellence’. I kept asking what made it different from any other large office, but no-one had an answer for that. This book provides a useful description: “vortex of incomparable splendour, hub of magnificence, apex of awesomeness. No-one likes anyone who works in one of these.” Otherwise: it’s meaningless like so much other corporate bull.

It’s not a terribly funny book. Maybe I’m the wrong nationality for the humour. There are some fantastic Americanisms in there that I would never hear from a non-American, like ‘soup to nuts’. I always wondered what that meant and I’m still not sure. That said, I loved the piece about SGPs (standard generic photographs). You know, the photo library shots your company has on its brochure. Where there is always an appropriate gender and ethnic balance. Anyone over 40 is wearing glasses. And they feature people pointing, waving, looking interested.

As the authors say, go and enjoy a long run of ‘Take Your Personality to Work’ Days. And join the league of bullfighters.

Weasel Word Wednesday #17 – intimacy

There is nothing wrong with using the word ‘intimacy. In the right context. However, in the business world we increasingly hear about ‘customer intimacy’ which sounds kind of creepy to me. There’s understanding your customer and there’s… creepy. Maybe the term evolved when customer relationship management or CRM went out of favour after so many failed implementations of software that was meant to do this job instead of people. Or perhaps it was just invented to keep consultants in work.

Last week I jumped to the wrong conclusion when I spotted someone on LinkedIn calling themselves an ‘Intimacy Specialist’.  Guess what… their business was about actual intimacy, advising people on human relationships, love and sex. At least it reminded me of the other use of the word, the one I dislike. I must give credit for the image used above: it comes from a blog post titled: ‘A Customer Intimate Strategy Can Leverage A Co-Creation Process‘. I am not kidding. Take a look.

“We have no competitors”

Every time I hear an executive say this, I groan inwardly. Sure, no one else does exactly what you do, how you do it. But are there alternatives competing for the attention and dollars of your potential customers? Of course there are. So you do have competitors. Saying you don’t have any at best shows you to be a little naive. To me it shows that you can’t explain why you are different. Many businesses haven’t given enough thought to what is different about what they offer and why customers should do business with them.

My suggestion is: come up with some statements that position you in relation to two or three of your competitors. Never say anything negative about your competition – that looks worse than saying you have none. Here’s one way of saying it: “Competitor X offers much more/bigger/better X than us [X being something you don’t do], whereas we offer [insert something they cannot offer or don’t do as well as you can].”

I read a blog post on this subject by a young entrepreneur today who agrees that saying you have no competitors causes your audience to roll their eyes, and he suggests some much nicer ways of saying it:

no one is doing this the way we are

there are other companies working on various aspects of this problem

Unfortunately he then goes on to say that his company is doing something incredibly unique and that some entrepreneurs have a vision that is vastly unique. OK, lost me there. A former journalist colleague who I worked with in my first PR job told me never to use the word unique, because it means that there has never been something like it and never will be. This is highly unlikely and causes people to be suspicious. Also it is so overused that it has lost some of its meaning. But then to qualify it as being incredibly or vastly unique? Oh boy.

HR breeds euphemisms

The information technology industry (which has employed me since 1994) is commonly accused of being the main culprit when it comes to jargon and buzzword bingo. Sure, it is the worst when it comes to three letter acronyms (TLAs). But for weasel words you really can’t go past human resources professionals.

I was reminded of this a while ago by Twitter contact @samotage who tweeted ‘HR peeps sure have some interesting terms, Embedding, Warehousing, Resource etcetera’.

Alignment, engagement, onboarding anyone? I know I’ve mentioned some of these terms here before, in relation to a software system we used to have at work called the ‘Alignment Tool’, which sounded like an instrument of torture to me.

Here’s a fantastic glossary of HR terms – read it and weep folks. And HR is supposed to be all about PEOPLE?