The most-hated jargon and how to avoid using it in media interviews

Often at this time of year, our media training blog focuses on the word of the year.

Unsurprisingly, ‘lockdown’ has scooped that particular honour in 2020.

As we’ve all probably heard more than enough of that particular word lately, we thought we would instead focus on the phrase that has been voted the country’s most-loathsome jargon.

The infuriating ‘touch base’ took the prize, beating the likes of ‘think outside the box’, ‘bang for the buck’, ‘out of the loop’, and ‘low hanging fruit’, in a survey.

The report also included newer, but equally infuriating, phrases, such as ‘spit balling ideas’ – which doesn’t sound covid secure - and ‘helicopter thinking’, which, I’m told means rising above a situation to get a bigger picture.

You might think that these phrases only exist in the workplace. But what stood out about the report was that the news was seen as one of the most common places to see and hear jargon.

It came second, just behind social media.

And the government news briefings, which we have seen so much of during the pandemic, also featured highly, with people admitting feeling puzzled by terms like ‘travel corridors’, ‘herd immunity’, and ‘flattening the curve’.

My personal favourite from those briefings is “handbrake restrictions”. And I’m still confused about the insistence of talking about a “rolling review” – what’s wrong with “monitor”?

It is fascinating to see that many feel so much of this jargon is used in the media.

We always stress to delegates on our media training courses the importance of keeping language simple.

When spokespeople use jargon and acronyms it causes audiences to switch-off and zone out. If you use it in a print interview it makes quotes unusable.

Here’s an example we highlighted in one of our media training blogs a few months ago when a spokesperson appeared on the radio to talk about a sustainability initiative.

“Today we launch Project Earth, which is our sustainability initiative aimed at changing the way we shop and the way we do business, with tough and ambitious targets to meet by 2025.

“And the three things we will do are, explore the new circular business models of rent, resell, repair and recycle, making us synonymous with circularity.

“We will set ambitious targets around nine different materials and we will challenge our teams’ and customers’ mindsets.”

Things like “circular business models” and being “synonymous with circularity” may sound good in the boardroom.

It may well make sense to people in similar roles in other organisations.

But to the majority of people, it is meaningless. Not only that, but these kinds of phrases make spokespeople sound scripted, almost as if they are reading out a poorly written press release.

Every industry has its own jargon and phrases that make perfect sense to those who work in it, but that bamboozle everyone else.

Good messages and interviews are those which are instantly understandable, even if the subject is complex. As Albert Einstein once said: “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.”

The best way to achieve that simplicity is to use the same language you would use if you were telling the stories to friends or your family in a pub or café – or, in the current world of lockdown restrictions, on a Zoom catch up.  

Sometimes on our media training courses, delegates can be reluctant to simplify language, fearing it will make them seem less professional. But that isn’t the case.

Stick to everyday language and back your message up with examples people can relate to – we all love stories - and you will deliver an interview that convinces, compels and persuades.

But there is another key lesson that can be learnt from this jargon report.

It was produced by SMARTY, a mobile network – one I hadn’t previously heard of - and helped it to secure extensive coverage.

The Daily Mail is among a number of publications, including several regional and local newspapers, that carried the report. And those stories have included quotes from Sayed Hajamaideen, head of marketing and propositions.

Great publicity and it serves as a timely reminder of how organisations can place themselves in the news even when they don’t have a new product, service or initiative to discuss.

As long as they are credible and don’t sound too much like a plug, things like surveys can be a great way of raising your brand’s profile and keeping it in the news.


About to face the media? Get your media interview homework off to the best start by downloading your copy of our free media interview preparation eBook.


Media First are media and communications training specialists with over 35 years of experience. We have a team of trainers, each with decades of experience working as journalists, presenters, communications coaches and media trainers. 

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