Simple and Clear

chickenclear

While they don’t compare to Savage Chickens, high tech product marketers are apt to use dense prose with a plethora of technical jargon directed at experts. As a result, I’ve asked my team to pay special attention to being  “simple and clear” in their communication. As Blaise Pascal allegedly quipped, “I apologize in advance for the length of this letter but I didn’t have time to write a shorter one.” It’s easy for me to ask my team to simplify their writing but it’s harder to explain how. 

Since George Orwell and I share a birthday, I thought I’d borrow advice from his masterpiece ‘Politics and the English language’:

  1. Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
  2. Never use a long word where a short one will do.
  3. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
  4. Never use the passive where you can use the active.
  5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.

Orwell’s advice is more than 60 years old but still works today.  Still, Orwell didn’t have to deal with the scourge of communication: Microsoft PowerPoint. If you’re in a company that uses ppt as its primary communication device, I strongly encourage you to read Seth Grodin’s Really Bad PowerPoint.

Use clear language and you’re more likely to get your point across.  It’s that simple.

, , ,

14 Responses to Simple and Clear

  1. timoelliott March 17, 2009 at 2:47 am #

    What’s interesting about bad powerpoint is that it’s a study in incentives — i.e. it’s often a systemic corporate issue, rather than about individuals making poor choices.

    When I present, I try to use simple, clear pictures to illustrate what I’m saying — and I get high ratings.

    But people rarely want to reuse those slides, even when I’ve written word-for-word scripts for them. Why?

    (1) They’re designed for me. Good presenters have found a style that works for them, and the material should be adapted to that style, rather than the other way around. For example, I like humor in presentations, but many people are uncomfortable delivering these, or think it inappropriate.

    (2) People want words on the slides that they get from others. They typically prepare at the last minute, and so need the words as a lifeline (only a staggeringly small number of people know how to get powerpoint to show the script as they present), or they want to just give the presentation to somebody else as a document.

    (3) Corporate presentations are designed by committee for the lowest common denominator — i.e. really bad presenters. This leaches out any creative spark or interest that they may have had, and results in presentations cluttered with extraneous trademarks, logos, and disclaimers, long passages of illegible 10 pt font, generic corporate photos and complex diagrams.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Less Is More « Manage By Walking Around - October 11, 2009

    […] I’ve previously preached that people should be simple and clear in their communications, recently I’ve been thinking about how to apply simplicity of design to organizations.  In doing […]

  2. Not NSFW: Dealing with Acronym Addiction - AdVoice: SAP - RUN BETTER - Forbes - March 28, 2011

    […] work in an industry that is addicted to acronyms.  Although acronyms get in the way of clear communication, even my best marketers have the urge to turn every project, every product, and every position […]

  3. Writing Tips from Famous Authors - Forbes - September 24, 2012

    […] on better writing. For years, I quoted George Orwell who provided great advice on how to be simple and clear, including my […]

  4. Writing Tips From Famous Authors | Innovation - October 12, 2012

    […] tips on better writing. For years, I quoted George Orwell who provided great advice on how to be simple and clear, including my favorite: “If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it […]

  5. SAP Newsroom – Writing Tips from Famous Authors - October 28, 2012

    […] tips on better writing. For years, I quoted George Orwell who provided great advice on how to be simple and clear, including my […]

  6. Acronym Soup - Manage By Walking Around - October 16, 2014

    […] don’t like acronyms because they get in the way of clear communication. Unfortunately, I work in an industry that loves them. Even my best marketers have the irresistible […]

  7. The Power Play of Sports Jargon - Manage By Walking Around - October 7, 2018

    […] sports jargon is often over-used – in business and in life. As I’ve always been a proponent of simple and clear communication, it occurred to me that sports jargon might be getting in the way. After all, not everyone has a […]

  8. The Feynman Learning Technique - Manage By Walking Around - August 9, 2020

    […] Regardless of whether I’m going to explain the topic verbally or in writing, I try to eliminate jargon, useless “filler” words, and typical corporate language. I follow my own advice on being simple and clear. […]

  9. Beware of Leopard Lessons - Manage By Walking Around - October 25, 2020

    […] department but rather for the public. Unfortunately, in many disciplines, documents are filled with jargon and acronyms which experts understand but casual readers do […]

  10. Don’t Skate To Where The Puck Is Going - Manage By Walking Around - May 30, 2021

    […] entertainment industry, I worry that using sports jargon in business can get in the way of clear communication. As I’ve written about before, not everyone has a sports background and some of the phrases can […]

  11. Less Is More - Manage By Walking Around - July 6, 2021

    […] previously recommended people should be simple and clear in their communications. More recently, I’ve been thinking about how to apply simplicity of design to organizations. In […]

  12. We Need To Learn To Listen - Manage By Walking Around - July 11, 2021

    […] components are the responsibility of the listener, not the speaker. If the speaker doesn’t use clear communication, the active listener can improve their own comprehension using the Feyman Learning Technique and […]

  13. Your Ears Must Be Burning - Manage By Walking Around - July 25, 2021

    […] I’ve frequently written about, we casually use jargon and idioms, assuming others know what we mean. Unfortunately, nuances are […]

Leave a Reply

 

%d bloggers like this: