Boards address corporate jargon

Boards address corporate jargon

The Power of Plain Language: Breaking Down Jargon for Effective Communication

Image source: Fortune

In the corporate world, jargon has long been a source of frustration and confusion, especially when it comes to cybersecurity and other technical subjects. Houston, a corporate director, shares his firsthand experiences, stating, “Board members will understandably get frustrated if they get a brief particularly with somebody coming in and saying, ‘Hey, there are all these vulnerabilities; I need a lot of money.’ If that isn’t explained in real business terms, risk terms, clearly and how to effectively address them, they can get not just frustrated but alarmed.”

To combat this issue, organizations now demand that Chief Information Security Officers (CISOs) speak in plain language. What was once a desirable trait for a CISO has become a necessity. Board members require clear and concise explanations of technical subjects in order to make informed decisions. The shift towards plain language communication is also driven by the need for better risk disclosure around cybersecurity and climate change, which is being considered by the U.S. government.

While jargon still persists in many corporate boardrooms, efforts are being made to banish it. The Center for Plain Language, a nonprofit advocacy group, champions the use of plain language in organizations. Barbra Kingsley, the chair of the organization, explains the benefits of plain language, stating, “When information is designed and written in plain language, it puts a better face to the organization. It’s brandable; it helps customers respond more accurately; it reduces inefficiencies in the organization. So there’s really no downside to it.”

Although some may argue that the use of jargon is an attempt to obfuscate and confuse, the reality is that most people use jargon as a way to efficiently communicate within their specific industry or field. However, there is still a long way to go in terms of adopting plain language across all sectors. Kingsley emphasizes the importance of clear communication for board members, who often come into an organization as external users. Clear information allows them to provide solid and accurate advice.

As shareholder engagement with directors increases, there is a growing need for directors to communicate in plain language. Investors want to engage with directors to understand strategy and how it’s being executed. This trend is further reinforced by proposed rules by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, aiming to make public companies disclose information about climate-related risks and cybersecurity risk management. Directors must become involved in crafting written materials to effectively tell their organization’s story to investors.

Chris Barbin, CEO of Tercera and a member of multiple boards, acknowledges the prevalence of jargon in the tech industry and emphasizes the importance of plain language among directors. Barbin encourages a rich dialogue among board members, avoiding the use of buzzwords and excessive information that overwhelms the discussion. He believes that a concise presentation with a few key slides can initiate valuable follow-up conversations.

Training writers and presenters to consider the audience’s perspective and tailor information accordingly is crucial. Plain language isn’t simply about using simple words; it starts by understanding the audience and their needs. Having a consistent format for presenting information also helps directors navigate complex material. This way, directors can better engage with the content and ask meaningful questions.

One success story showcases the power of plain language in board presentations. A CISO condensed all the relevant cybersecurity information into a single PowerPoint slide for a power company’s directors. The clear visual layout helped them understand the organization’s vulnerabilities, means of attack, and the steps being taken to address them. This example highlights the positive impact plain language can have on communication between technical experts and a non-technical audience.

In summary, the use of plain language in corporate communication is gaining momentum. Organizations are demanding that technical concepts be presented in clear and understandable terms. Corporate directors and board members must adapt to this shift, enhancing their communication skills to engage with investors effectively. By breaking down complex jargon, organizations can improve customer experiences, reduce inefficiencies, and ultimately enhance their overall performance. The push for plain language comes not only from government regulations but also from the feedback loop created by customers and investors. Embracing plain language is the key to successful communication in the corporate world.