January 22, 2012

Beyond Buzz Words

Jennifer Moonby Jennifer Moon, DTM

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a mental picture must be worth much more. Mental images can transport someone beyond the visual cues of a picture to feelings, smells, sounds and emotions. Mental imagery is a powerful tool for all communicators and can be achieved fairly easily through careful word selection.

Not sure if this actually works? What comes to mind when you read “ice cream cone”? Do you picture a simple image involving a scoop or two on a brown cone? What if I select different words to describe the same cone, words like “two velvet-smooth, luxurious scoops of chocolate ice cream piled into a crunchy waffle cone with a single drip running down the lip of the cone” – do you get a livelier image? If you’re like most people, not only can you picture the second ice cream cone in more detail, you can almost feel the warm sun on your shoulders, hear the birds singing in the park, smell the chocolate and experience childhood memories as you prepare to enjoy the treat.

Now consider the complete opposite of good, evocative word selection – buzz words. No matter how revolutionary these words or phrases are when they first enter into our vocabulary, they quickly become crutch words, filler words and run the risk of eroding careful word selection. To make matters worse, these expressions can also be frustrating and confusing. Consider one of my least favourite buzz expressions: Take it to the next level. Are you looking for an elevator or are you trying to elevate a team’s performance?

Buzz words also come in the form of expressions that we sometimes use out of habit. For example: at the end of the day. Why not use the word “tonight”? What about “at this point in time”? What’s wrong with “now”? Most buzz words are redundant and add to our word count without serving a specific purpose. Why not use the time or space when communicating to use descriptive, accurate words that better convey your message?

2011 Buzz Words
Buzz words are everywhere – in the media, at work, at home and, I hate to admit it, at Toastmasters. These words and expressions are like sirens, calling to us with their ease of use, reputation for being all-purpose answers and the illusion of sounding authoritative. The table shows a recently released list of some of the most dreaded buzz words and expressions from 2011. Do you recognize any of your favourites?

The Challenge
Banish buzz words from your vocabulary and choose to use vivid language instead. Enjoy the power of painting lively pictures, capturing your audiences with the uniqueness and subtlety of your skill with words. Think of buzz words as a still photograph. Sure you might have a great shot, but how much better would it be to see, smell, touch and feel the magic? Paint that kind of metal picture for your audience and you will leave them moved by your message and eager to hear more.

Jennifer Moon is a Distinguished Toastmaster (DTM) and long time member of Goodyear Toastmasters. She recently joined the Board of Governors of the Ontario College of Trades. You’ll find more details on LinkedIn.

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