Clear Communication, Eliminating Jargon Lets Your Message Hit the Button

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Knowing the right words and knowing the right words to use are completely different things -- and understanding the difference can help you hammer home your message to your readers.

This weekend I curled for the fourth time in my life. The first was years ago, back in university, and I think I was more interested in the post-game Scotch than the on-ice action. However, for the past three years, I've been a part of friends' annual curling Bonspiel.

How is this relevant? Because while I've always understood curling, this year was the first time that I understood curling -- and it all came down to communication.

For that, I need to thank Catherine, who propelled a group of curling misfits to a second-place finish in an eight-team Bonspiel -- by a matter of millimeters on the last rock, I may add -- through the sheer power of clear communication and eliminating jargon.

This event is intended as a fun, social gathering. There are a few actual curlers there, a few people who have curled a couple of times, and a few who have never set foot on a sheet. Generally, the more experienced curlers take the lead, direct traffic, and try to guide the rest of their team.

But, as I said off the top, there's a huge difference in knowing the right words and knowing the right words to use.

Curling has a whole language unto itself: in-turn, out-turn, draw, raise, and, of course, the ever-popular "Hurry Hard." There are also hand signals designed to help direct how you want the person throwing the stone to act.

I'll be honest, the previous two years, I didn't know if people were using semaphore or trying to guide a plane into land on the tee line, but it was a mystery to me. I had no idea how much to spin a rock or which way to spin it. My previous teachers may have been good curlers, but that doesn't necessarily make them good at communicating it.

Wayne Gretzky may be the greatest hockey player alive, but that didn't translate to coaching. Why? Because the greats just "know" how to do something. They don't have to analyze it, it just comes naturally to them. The best coaches are usually the fourth-liners -- the muckers and grinders who had to work for every edge. They're the ones who had to learn how to play and, thusly, are able to teach the finer points.

And the best coaches are teachers. Did I mention Catherine's a teacher?

In the past, my rocks were all over the place. Through the house, too short, not in the right spot. This year? Most went where I wanted them to -- or at least in the right direction. I still haven't figured out proper weighting, at least I know where it's going, and at least half were actually good shots.

Here's all it took.

"I'm going to say three o'clock or nine o'clock. That's where you point your rock handle. Aim for my broom. Then, as you slide forward turn your hand slowly and extend it like you're going to shake my hand."

That's it.

No yelling, no frustration -- and all words I understood. No flapping of arms, no cryptic hand signals. Just clear and plain English and idiot-proof instruction (and, when it comes to curling, I'm clearly an idiot) that helped me get better.

And you know what? I enjoyed this experience far more than ever before. I always had fun with the people and the lunacy of me being on a curling sheet -- but this time I actually enjoyed the game fully. I felt like I was progressing, that I was actually getting better, and that I understood what I was doing.

That's the power of communication.

You can have all the right jargon and use the right terms for your industry, but if the message is lost on your end-user, are you really "right" in using it? Plain speech is so effective because it puts what really matters at the fore: the message. It's not about doing verbal gymnastics to show how intelligent you are, but rather using your intelligence to craft a message that delivers quickly, efficiently, and to as broad a prospective audience as possible.

And that focus on clarity can help ensure your message stays on target. After all, (and if you’ll indulge me in a little jargon -- despite everything I've said above!) the more rocks you have in the house, the more chances you have to score, right?

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