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When a journalist is forced to ask you to ‘translate’ answers and put them in ‘simple terms’ it is fair to assume you are overdoing the jargon.
If the same journalist later takes to Twitter to criticise the language you used then your interview is clearly not being remembered for the right reasons.
Jargon, ‘corporate speak’ or ‘political speak’ is a sure fire way to ensure audiences lose concentration or switch-off altogether.
But it continues to get used and earlier this week there was something of a bumper edition when two spokespeople appearing to discuss the same item filled the airwaves with incomprehensible phrases.
It was the perfect example of the language not to use in a media interview and how using jargon will not help you avoid difficult questions.
The interview in question saw AO boss John Roberts and East Cheshire Council leader Rachel Bailey take part in a budget preview item on the Today Programme on Radio 4 with the exasperated presenter Nick Robinson.
Translation - "political speak" = incomprehensible obfuscation & jargon (as used by guest on @BBCr4today)— Nick Robinson (@bbcnickrobinson) March 8, 2017
Mr Roberts, who seemed intent on treating the interview as an advert for his business, set the tone with responses which appeared to have come direct from the boardroom with phrases such as ‘macro picture’ (twice), ‘innovative’, ‘friction’ and ‘resilient’.
Not terrible, but not very meaningful, and the language could have been much, much simpler and direct.
But worse was to follow when Mr Robinson focused on Cllr Bailey.
Faced with a question about whether she was worried about her council having enough money for social care, her answer included this line which caused Mr Robinson to call for a translation:
“Cheshire East is not a heavily government funded council. We rely on Council Tax, so as an authority we have to have a business-like approach which has meant we have always looked to the prevention agenda.”
His frustration continued after a vague response to a question about whether the council wanted more money from the Government and he suggested the next answer should be in ‘simple terms’.
Cllr Bailey later went on to admit she was using ‘political speak’ causing Robinson to reply ‘could you stop talking in politics.”
The plea was not heard, however, and Mr Robinson responded to the final answer by saying ‘I think that is a yes’, which meant Cllr Bailey had put herself in a position where the reporter was effectively putting words in her mouth.
On our media training courses we always tell our delegates to avoid jargon and to use the same language they would use if they were talking to a friend or family member so that messages are easily understood.
As well as the language here often being incomprehensible, it also made the interview a disjointed affair with Mr Robinson making regularly interruptions to clarify responses. This made it harder for Cllr Bailey to get to her messages.
It also created an unnecessarily defensive tone to the interview with Cllr Bailey, a Conservative councillor, seeming intent to focus on avoiding being critical of the Tory Government by trying to talk around the questions she was being asked.
In a broadcast interview the aim is to create a natural sounding conversation. This was anything but and if the reporter is struggling to understand what is being said the audience is likely to become completely distracted.
A much better approach would have been to simplify the language, and use media training techniques like bridging to try to take some control of the interview.
The use of jargon in this interview ensured it was only memorable for the spokespeople being challenged on air and criticised on social media.
Media First are media and communications training specialists with over 30 years of experience. We have a team of trainers, each with decades of experience working as journalists, presenters, communications coaches and media trainers.
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