Clear As Mud: The Case for Plain Speak in Business

As technology people, jargon surrounds us. However, we’re so used to our jargon in place of plain speak that we don’t notice it anymore.

Take a minute to open up a few emails from today and list the included acronyms and abbreviations you find: ROI, CAPEX, IOPS, PaaS, ODS, SAN, EDW, etc. Then switch to noting industry-specific and business-related terms: bleeds, loads, caches, gains, handshakes….

You’re an expert, so you know these terms. However, when making a business case, you’re speaking to non-experts – and you require their understanding for business case success.

Here are three compelling reasons for eliminating your jargon from business communications and using plain speak, such as business cases.


1. Business Case Success Requires Understanding

When you’re communicating with business stakeholders outside your department, you’re probably presenting a business case that lays out the details of how much cash and time you need, versus the value that you’ll bring to the organization and the stakeholder.

They say “the devil is in the details,” and for a business case, this means you must explain those details properly so you can ensure you’re understood clearly. As you already know, clear explanations lead to faster, more agile decisions. So if you want your business case to be successful, you must communicate in a way that stakeholders can understand.

Try this: This may sound strange, but your business cases can avoid jargon if you present an emotional story paired with the facts. This doesn’t mean you need to craft a tear-jerker for your stakeholders, but simply set up a story with a challenge (conflict) that explains what the company has been suffering without your requested resources, and a solution (“happily ever after” ending) that explains why your company will be better off after you have the resources you need. Think of it like a success story.


2. Only Insiders Can Understand Insiders

As IT professionals ourselves, we at Silent IT understand how hard it can be to accurately express yourself without using jargon. How can you talk about server loads without saying “server” or “loads”?

Plus, let’s be honest: jargon does have some benefits. It creates great inside jokes, makes Dilbert hilarious, and also creates job security because it reinforces everyone’s perception that you are the appropriate person to run the IT department.

However, there’s a time and place to use jargon. When speaking with your IT team members, you can use all the insider terminology you want, but you may find yourself receiving blank stares when you use tech-speak with people who:

·  Work outside your field

·  Only understand superficial company operations

·  Work in other departments

·  Are new to your company

You don’t want blank stares during your business case presentation. You want nods and handshakes.

Try this: Avoid jargon entirely in your business case presentation. To outsiders, tech-speak sounds like a foreign language. If your jargon sounds like Greek to your stakeholders, don’t speak to them in Greek! Instead, work carefully on your presentation so you can be sure that a five-year old would understand what you’re saying. You can never make yourself too clear.


3. Connecting with Stakeholders Is Key

Here’s an interesting exercise: redefine the word stakeholders without using business jargon. What is a stakeholder? If we break down the meaning, it becomes someone who has a stake in your company. That means whether your organization fails or succeeds, stakeholders will be impacted by the outcome.

No one wants to go down with the ship, so we can safely assume that “stakeholders” are people who want your company and your plan to succeed. By definition, you and the stakeholders are both on the same side.

If you’ve felt in the past that stakeholders aren’t on your side or that they vote against everything you propose, you may want to rework your business cases. Since you’re the expert, you’re the only person who fully understands why an IT project is important for company success. It’s up to you to ensure that your stakeholders also understand why the project is important. Their understanding will come when you eliminate jargon.

Try this: As you prepare your next business case, look over your slide deck and identify all the jargon. You’ve spent years in your field, so you may want to bring your presentation to someone outside your specialty for another look. Once you’ve found all the confusing insider terms, think about how you can restate your wording so it makes more sense to your listeners and readers. As you’re presenting, check in with your audience to make sure they understand what you’re saying. Invite questions often.


Clear Communication Requires Clear Thinking

According to a popular Harvard Business Review interview, few of us want to speak using jargon – it simply happens when we’re too busy to figure out the deeper meaning of what we’re actually saying. In a world in which we’re all too busy to communicate properly, it becomes increasingly harder to be understood, and that’s a problem.

If we speak jargon to become insiders, our jargon automatically excludes outsiders – including the stakeholders whose buy-in we desperately need to move forward on critical projects. Since stakeholders are the ones who make the decisions that determine our business futures, use plain speak and make them feel like co-creators in those decisions.

The best way to do that is to ensure stakeholders understand the issues at hand, as well as the positive results of their support.


If you’re tired of talking around an issue and you want to push your next IT project into action faster, Silent IT can help bridge the gap between a variety of departments. Our assistance comes with straightforward plans, simple next steps and unmistakable results. That’s the power of clarity.

Contact Silent IT to keep your IT planning crystal clear and your business cases successful.