Most organizations have an internal language—a patois of professional jargon, insider concepts, and in-house categories. And it should stay internal. Alas, too many broadcast their group-speak to an uncomprehending public through websites and collateral materials that attempt to persuade but often baffle.
It reminds us of a famous Far Side cartoon in which a man is earnestly lecturing his dog, who hears only “Blah blah Ginger, blah blah blah….” When your org chart defines your website’s architecture, when you use terminology that’s not widely recognized outside your organization, when you describe your products or services from your perspective rather than your target market’s perspective, your audience is likely to hear only “blah, blah, blah.”
Internal language seeps into external communications so often because it’s difficult to catch yourself using it. Few of us can switch automatically from insider to outsider language—it takes conscious effort. But it’s worth it: People usually won’t tell you they don’t understand your terminology, they’ll just make assumptions. If they don’t find information in the expected place on your website, they’ll assume it’s not there. If a word has a common meaning that differs from a particular meaning within your organization, they’ll assume the common meaning.
So make sure your message doesn’t get lost in translation: speak your audience’s language.
First published in the February 2008 issue of Words That Work.