Why do business people speak like idiots?

Before you hit send on that next memo, or deliver that speech or announcement to your staff, or write that next PR release – check for bullshit!

Ok look at your last piece of prose: did you include any of these words “Best of breed, centre of excellence, paradigm shift, results driven, socialise”?

Fear and Peer pressure it seems is the main cause for most business people to use this strange version of the English language.

I have just finished reading “Why business people speak like idiots” a book authored by Brian Fugere, Chelsea Hardaway & Jon Warshawskey.

Whether it’s memos that say nothing, sloppy boring presentations or jargon overload these guys take the knife to all of it. Their take is: this predictable-PC dialect, the business world has fallen into is a waste of time. Hell, we’ve become immune to these empty, generic messages. And as a result no one really listens any more.

The worst enemy of all – CUT PASTE and BLOAT – be careful with that next power point you prepare and how you use these features. Templates kill the message, and cut and pasted templated messages are the worst.

A couple of my favourite tips were reiterated in this book:

  • Stand for something – avoid the curse anonymity – staying low may keep you safe but will not help you get noticed and achieve stuff
  • People love imperfection – ums and ah’s are ok. Overly scripted messages fail. Check out my Rework blog post- “no one likes plastic flowers”
  • Avoid the tedium trap – boring, boring, boring – spice thinks up
  • Stories work – tell a story about a customer or something relevant to your topic – people get it.

Theory vs Story telling:
Brian and team give a great comparison as to the world’s acceptance of storytelling versus theory. Compare the book sales numbers on the two books on transformational change below.

  • “Leading change” by John P Cotter – 210,000 copies sold 2003 – Theory
  • “Who moved my cheese” by Spenser Johnson – 14 Million copies sold 2003  – Story

More Tips from this entertaining and informative book:

  • Short presentations pack punch – straight talkers get more credit
  • Short sentences are more memorable
  • One syllable words build momentum – big words don’t impress
  • Bull has an aroma – and it isn’t exactly channel 5. Say it as it is – if its bad news front up to it and take ownership
  • Avoid the obscurity trap – don’t let fluff and verbosity get in the way of the real message
  • Avoid stupid generic photos or clip art

The good news is that it is not that hard to stand out from the pack, by just telling it as it is and using simple words.

Check out Winston Churchill’s famous speech to the House of Commons June 4 1940, below.

“We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France,
we shall fight on the seas and oceans,
we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be,
we shall fight on the beaches,
we shall fight on the landing grounds,
we shall fight in the fields and in the streets,
we shall fight in the hills;
we shall never surrender”

How many big words does Winston use ? 

If you are after a light read and are willing to join the no bullshit movement get your hands on a copy.
Thanks for the book Motive8 team – a great read.

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3 thoughts on “Why do business people speak like idiots?

  1. I think the most important thing is clear communication, flowery language should never get in the way of this. Jargon can mean different things to different people and result in misunderstandings.

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