Simple language takes a little bit of courage

When it comes to getting a message across, most of us agree that simple is best. I don’t meet too many business leaders arguing that convoluted, jargon-ridden management speak wins over more people than concise, plain-speaking simplicity.

So why is it so difficult to keep our language simple? Why are we so reluctant to use three words when we can use ten? Why do we feel compelled to prefix perfectly good nouns with clichéd adjectives?

Granted, it takes a bit of work and a certain amount of skill to make complex subjects simple (TED talks don’t tend to be chucked together the night before). But even when a message has been professionally written and stripped right down to its simplistic best, an awful lot of people can’t resist the urge to dress it back up again. And so ‘we’ve helped a lot of customers’ becomes ‘we’ve delivered value-added solutions to multiple clients’ and ‘bringing the right people together’ reverts to ‘a strategic stakeholder onboarding programme’.

It’s sorely tempting to try and strengthen a message with these kind of ‘dynamic’ words. But they actually do the opposite. Words intended to make us sound smarter and more interesting just make us sound predictable and slightly delirious. Left unchecked, plain-speaking simplicity quickly gives way to convoluted, jargon-ridden management speak.

Simple communication comes down to having conviction in what you’re saying. If your message is strong enough, it doesn’t need any fairy lights: keep it simple and keep it honest. If it isn’t strong enough, then no amount of tinsel or baubles is going to get your audience to buy it. People these days have finely-tuned bullsh*t detectors and severely limited attention spans, so don’t tell them porkies and don’t make them have to work too hard to understand you. 

If you’ve taken the time to strip your message down to its bare essentials, don’t be tempted to dress it back up again. Presenting a simple message takes a little bit of courage - but everyone will thank you for it.

  • Branding