4 TIPS TO SPEAKING IN PLAIN ENGLISH: HOW TO COMMUNICATE SIMPLY
By Sarah-Lee Crellin, one of our Commtractors based in New Zealand. She is a professional strategic communications and media specialist with experience in both internal and external communications, especially across the public sector.
Speaking in plain English, shouldn’t be hard right?
However, as a communication specialist I see time and time again organisations and people struggling to communicate and tell their story simply because they have become bogged down in expert knowledge, detail and jargon.
When I see this, my advice I give to clients and colleagues is actually quite simple.
Don’t speak to me in jargon, not because I don’t understand you but because jargon sucks and a lot of people won’t understand you or won’t bother reading any further.
Speak to me, like you would speak to your mother and grandmother over a cup of tea.
My top tips for speaking in plain English:
Think about your audience Put your audience first. Some audiences will be happy with complicated language. The general public however isn’t, and won’t stand for jargon. Remember, just because you know the subject matter inside and out it doesn’t mean your audience will. You are writing to communicate not to impress or show off how clever you are.
Keep it simple Since we have decided to communicate and not impress, remember to keep it simple and use simple words. Write ‘use’ instead of ‘utilise’ and ‘get’ instead of ‘procure’. Don’t add content in for content sake. Information overload packed with jargon is a sure fire way to lose your audience and the point you are trying to communicate very quickly.
Speak in an active voice For example, www.write.co.nz uses a fantastic example of this using the phrase ‘by wild penguins’. Essentially if you’re not sure whether you have an active or a passive sentence, try adding the phrase ‘by wild penguins’. If you can make it fit, the sentence is passive. Passive: It is considered … by wild penguins … that the survey is flawed. Active: We consider the survey to be flawed. Notice how concise and easy to understand the sentence is once it has been written in an active voice?
Last but not least… Get someone else to read your content before you publish it, and often it is better if that person isn’t a subject matter expert as they will be able to give you honest and useful feedback.
If all else fails, bring in the cavalry!!
Communication specialists like myself love to kick the jargon to the curb and are only an email away.