If I had to pick one session from SXSW 2016 that had a message I felt everyone in business (or politics for that matter) should have had the privilege of attending, it would be this one.
Man…what a fun, lighthearted, but painfully real panel on why we just can’t help ourselves from using terms and speaking in ways that only confuses people, builds distrust, or erodes integrity.
Thanks to Matt Anderson of Marina Maher Communications for putting it succinctly.
- Jon Jones of The Incite Agency @jones_a_jon
- Nell Scovell an accomplished TV and Magazine writer, producer, and director (see Lean In) @NellSco
- Jon Favreau of Fenway Strategies @jonfavs
- And Alyssa Mastromonaco of VICE Media was sorely missed! @AlyssaMastro44
We were lucky enough to have these folks converse quite humorously on the subject and backed up their thoughts and ideas with some all-too-perfect videos and campaigns. Here’s what I took away that I think everyone should think long and hard about.
1. There is so much jargon slinging happening every day in our offices and conference rooms, that it’s spilling over into our personal lives. Jon Favreau summed up this idea as the “curse of knowledge” in that assuming that everyone else knows what you know and speaks the way you speak. You need to know your audience and speak to them in a way that they will understand or associate with. Would you tell your mom to “hit the ground running” or “leverage her skill-set to accomplish tasks more efficiently?” Nope, me neither, even if those concepts were something I was striving to get across. This jargon obfuscates (jargon?) our point and results in distrust or confusion. It might be time to step back and start speaking to each other like humans again, rather than MBA textbook glossaries. Jon Jones put it well when he said that the issue is around “calculated and overly manipulative language.” When we speak this way, even if it’s not intended to be, it’s interpreted with caution and suspicion. And this isn’t just opinion. Look at these stats on consumer trust the panel shared with us.
Those declines are a little unnerving considering we one would hope that as a society, should be learning and progressing in our ability to communicate with and trust one another, rather than declining. This video they shared with is is certainly worth a watch. It’s funny ’cause it’s true.
2. Let’s not fool ourselves. Many of us are guilty of this, myself included. Something tells me I’m not the only one who’s had to sit through meeting after meeting dodging this same bullshit, and admittedly so, been guilty of slinging it as well. What we need to do is learn from this and correct our misguided ways. We’ll be more effective and productive people because of it and the people we interact with will be happier because of it. This video pretty much sums it up.
3. It’s the media’s fault. It’s our own fault. During the session, they juxtaposed two newscasts, one from The Onion, and one from a major news outlet. They were frighteningly similar and had it not been for that Onion logo, we might not have known the difference (as in, we would have thought they were both jokes). The truth is, the media wouldn’t be doing it if we didn’t consume it. We eat it up, and it’s up to us to hold the media to a higher standard.
4. Here’s one example we’re seeing unfold live (I almost said “real time”) in our current race for the presidency. People seem to be sick of hearing politicians dodge questions, speak in misleading monologues, and come across as snake oil salespeople rather than people like you and I who just also happen to be capable of leading our country. We’ve been yearning for a “straight shooter” so much that we’ve now got a front runner in the republican race who has won masses of people to his side by employing that simple tactic. “Telling it like it is” has trumped any real need for policy detail or real outlining of the “how” things might end up being accomplished (see what I did there?). Perhaps it’s all there behind the curtains, but my point is, policies aside, without that mentality, I believe Trump wouldn’t have voters by his side in the masses he does now. Obama’s appeal was similar, especially during the 2008 race, he stood out, people saw him as a guy they could “have a beer” with. Politicians have disconnected themselves from the everyday person to such an extreme that we feel compelled to lump them into an alien civilization we’ve come to accept as the norm for people of political power. When one of them decides to stray, and actually connect with people, we respond. No one should have to practice hugging their mom (video from the session below).
5. How do we stop it? Well, speaking in bullshit is easier than being authentic, making yourself vulnerable, and taking risks in speaking your true mind. But if we all try, it will get better. We can lead by example in our every day lives and hopefully that will infiltrate its way back into the boardroom conversations. If you’re going to say something, make sure you have something to say. We should stop mocking people who put themselves out there and make themselves vulnerable. We should stop being passive aggressive. If we agree with someone, we should let them know by saying “I agree,” instead of “I don’t disagree with you.” Sounds simple, but those two phrases really insinuate different things. People appreciate the honesty and authenticity. And we shouldn’t be afraid to use humor. It’s an excellent way to make a real and authentic connection without belittling or confusing your audience. Humorous example below:
These concepts fit very much into my personal world as well as my professional life. I’m in word-of-mouth marketing and I have been exposed to massive piles of bullshit floating around in this space. If you want influencers to spread word-of-mouth about your brand, make sure it’s real. It’s not just that no one believes it, or no one purchases because of it, it’s that the bullshit will actually (and permanently) hurt your brand. Apply the takeaways above to your marketing and to the people you ask to do your marketing for you. It’s a hard thing to do, but worth every ounce of effort it takes. A very simple concept we tell the brands we work with is this: find real people saying things they really mean to people they really know. That’s where true influence and word-of-mouth comes from, not people clicking “retweet” so they can get a coupon or free stuff. Brands have people who love them and they should find the authenticity of those voices to spread the word. They’ll be better for it and reap the benefits far after opt-in coupon hunter “influencers” have been discarded.
There is work to do all around; in our offices, in our politics, in our relationships, in our families, and in our everyday interactions with strangers. I know that after this session I pay much closer attention to the way I speak to people and even to the way I market the business I am lucky enough to have the privilege of marketing. The amazing thing is, it’s actually HARD to go back into the content I’ve created and the messaging I’ve put together and rework the corporate jargon aspects, it takes effort, which is why it’s worth it. I know it will be an ongoing process, but I think we’ll be more appreciated and respected because of it. There was obviously much more depth to this session and the room was packed to the gills with people that I hope will spread the word as well. So go forth, and stop speaking in bullshit…pretty please.