Why jargon sends us down the wrong path

Banklish.

It’s a word I claim I invented a decade ago for the unique language found within the financial sector, employed right from the executive floor to the local branch.

One person’s platform is another’s place-where-the-train-arrives, is another’s spot-where-Tom-Daley-dives-from. And so forth.

We all utilise jargon as a comfort blanket, an occasionally impenetrable language comprehended solely by our particular tribe.

And yet despite knowing that the need to make ourselves understood is vital in any sphere in life, we still drive straight into that pothole. Which is why messages are mistranslated, confusion reigns and grand strategies are not converted into simple actions.

I spent an extended period of time as a consultant for a large bank which loved to talk of ‘cascading’, the means by which actions approved at a board level would pass downwards, through each layer of management, until they reached the customer.

So desperate were each suit (they always had suits) to impress those above that they would regurgitate these grotesque buzz phrases verbatim, without ever checking whether the next recipient in line understood their meaning – and how it related to them.

It was laziness, a crime committed by an un-dead parrot. They had forgotten the key value of any messaging. 

It is not enough that someone has either sat through their Powerpoint or Zoom call, or ticked the Read Receipt on the email.  They failed to head to the second stage of confirming comprehension. 

Or, the third, which is agreeing upon the action to follow. Or, the fourth, which is defining the measurable outcome (often called, in an offshoot of Banklish, a KPI).

Unsurprisingly, it required a cultural brainwashing to try and rid the bank of this affliction. How? By urging them to appreciate their audience at every single step and tailoring their message specifically to that individual or group, rather than simply dumping every piece of information upon them and hoping for the best.

Go down that route, and they run the risk that the grand plan would never reach its destination– or worse, diverted in a totally different direction. 

So when working with clients – whether in producing content or copywriting for their benefit – my foremost consideration is finding out who they want to captivate and what is the end-result they are to achieve.

That allows me to choose the language, the tone of voice and to determine what the most vital information or messaging is. And then to tell a story which is engaging rather than boring to hammer it home.

Rest assured, nowhere within that will Banklish ever be deployed.

How to look good on camera while working from home

Everyone is at it now. 

FaceTime, Skype, Zoom, Teams, WebEx, Hangouts and that other one your mate uses for his weekly “pub” quiz.

Where video chats were once the preserve of international catch-ups or Sunday conversations with displaced grandparents, they are powering the pulley which has dragged work life into the 21st century.

And while coronavirus may be putting a short-term (hopefully) blockade on face-to-face reunions, this shift in culture is all but certainly permanent. We all have to get used to preening in front of our screens and presenting the best forms of ourselves, just as we would do if we were convening across a table. Without the travel required.

Contrary to newly-popular wisdom, it’s not all about a decent bookshelf, however.

There is a new parlour game of book bingo that has arisen from viewing battalions of experts and politicians on television news in front of libraries of learned material. Find your fun where you can, etc.

But for every home studio that cuts the right impression is one which lets both subject and spare bedroom down. Unforgivably, even some leading politicians (that’s you Matt Hancock) have not been schooled by their PR handlers to establish a screen presence which renders them at their best. 

Visuals matter. 

You wouldn’t head into a meeting looking scruffy or slouching in front of a client while peering up suspiciously without direct eye contact. The principle continues online. Make an effort, establish the basics, and repeat to make the right impression.

The Eye Test

You see that green dot or black window at the top of your screen or laptop (or even phone)? That is your audience, and your friend.

Staring at the camera is like looking into someone eyes to build trust and a connection. Not incessantly without any deviation. That’s weird too, just as in real life. 

But even though you may have notes elsewhere on the screen or on that increasingly obsolete “paper”, the more you can peer directly towards the other end of the virtual tunnel, the greater the empathy built.

How you position the camera can also make a difference. Ideally, your eyes should be as level as possible with the camera. Sticking a phone on a table and looking down is the worst of all worlds. No-one needs an exploratory tour of your nostrils.

My desktop is a little higher than I’d like but if I’m doing TV down the line from home, I try to utilise my laptop. Perched on a table with two shoe boxes on top, it becomes the perfect height. Professionally framed, it is that step closer to being in a studio with a camera in front (see below).

It’s also worth bearing in mind that most built-in cameras on laptops, phones or iPads aren’t especially high-grade. For the ultimate experience, an external 4K webcam is a valuable notch above.

Framing

We’ve all gained insights inside people’s homes courtesy of Covid-19. Like a bad edition of Through The Keyhole with the game given away up front. Being in front of a bookcase may, for academics, provide an assurance. For others, a line of paperback Harry Potters and a bobble head might be a superfluous distraction. 

While a little space between your face and the camera is useful (60 cms is a good distance), something within a metre behind will also close off the space neatly. 

And of course, dress appropriately. Brush your hair. And, of course, wash your hands.

Sound

There is a reason music or radio studios have padded walls and are as compact and soundproof as possible. That removes the echoes and external noise and also centres the volume where it’s meant to be – upping the clarity.

Mumbling in a meeting is an irritation for everyone else and it reduces the effectiveness of whatever the speaker is trying to say. Ditto when you can’t be picked up clearly on your computer microphone, most of which are – and I’m being kind – rubbish.

But while I will opt for either a lapel mic (for video) or directional mic (for audio only) attached to my computer, there are simpler solutions. 

Those ubiquitous plug-in headphones with a microphone built-in, given away with most phones, are infinitely better than letting your PC or Mac take control. Or a pair of Airpods. They will pick up your dulcet tones much more sharply. 

If nothing else, plug in the headphones. It reduces the echo. But in this brave new world of video conferencing, a pair of wireless, noise-cancelling headphones, with a decent microphone incorporated, will prove a solid investment.

Lighting up

And lastly, be seen! I recently attended a webinar where the principal speaker was a dark silhouette rather than in clear focus. Why? They sat with their back in front of a window, on a sunny day, so were rendered a mysterious blur.

Face the window, or a light, so you can be lit up effectively. There are cheap ring lights available which clip onto phones and computers which can make a significant difference too.

Lastly, look interested and attentive. Smile. Everyone can see you now. 

And there is no hiding place.