This columnist, author of Writing Copy for Dummies (Wiley), recently joined forces with Jon Warshawsky, coauthor (with Brian Fugere and Chelsea Hardaway) of the newly published Why Business People Speak Like Idiots (Free Press).
Together, the "dummy" and the "idiot" attacked their archenemy, Corporate Bull. What follows are five practical suggestions for shoveling your way out of the doublespeak and successfully into the embrace of colleagues and customers.
1. Put your audience first
A few months ago, Warshawsky met an agent to get a quote on homeowner's insurance. Pretty straightforward request, right?
Wrong. "Fifty minutes later, after enduring the usual hard-sell, I finally got one," Warshawsky says. "I was just after the basics—coverage, deductibles, exclusions. He didn't seem to understand that I don't necessarily want to hang out with my insurance agent."
Unfortunately, too many salespeople and other corporate communicators fail to understand the needs and wants of their audience. Instead of addressing audience concerns, they squander precious goodwill with self-serving monologues ("Let me tell you why Monolith, Inc. is the proactive answer for needs you didn't know you had!"), excessive self-praise ("We offer best-of-class solutions, worldwide") and irrelevant puffery (refer to just about any mission or "philosophy" statement).
The bull-free alternative? As Warshawsky and his colleagues say in Idiots, "Put your audience first, and inform them instead of trying to impress them; make a strong, specific commitment instead of resorting to the usual business...[vagueness]; and embrace what you do instead of romanticizing it."
2. Learn from Bugs Bunny