A man who uses a great many words to express his meaning is like a bad marksman who, instead of aiming a single stone at an object, takes up a handful and throws them all in hopes he may hit.
When I wrote The Busy Adult’s Guide to Making College Happen! the copy editor at the publishing company asked me a two part question, “do you want to sound smart, or do you want your book to sell?” “Are they different?” I asked? “Completely,” he responded. “You’re book is written using college graduate level language according to the Flesch–Kincaid grade level test, yet it is written for people without a college degree, do you see a problem here???” I agreed and he changed the language. That book went on to win the Axiom Best Business Book of the Year Award in 2009 a long side Peter Drucker, Seth Godin and others. I never did that again…
The old way of thinking was that people want to sound smarter than their reader in written text (and in life!). They want to use their “verbal advantage” language to wow the customer into thinking how smart they are. This gives them perceived intellectual authority. The problem is that this works well only in certain select circumstances – primarily when the buyer is gullible, but it has the opposite affect on those individuals who are reasonably intelligent.
If you’re the CFO of a company interviewing two bankers, one asks a few strategic questions to really understand the issues and then the client does most of the talking; the other launches right into their finely crafted presentation and asks no questions. Who do you think the CFO will buy from?
Let’s say they both get to the end, and the client asks “is it the right time to raise capital in the bond markets?” Examine at these two responses below:
“Recent market research data would suggest that the noise in Europe and the risk premium that global markets are now charging – gives some companies pause when contemplating the market. Once they have digested the data, a wise treasury staff would determine that, while nothing is ever certain, it is fear rather than investor demand piloting the uncertainty that exists in the markets today. If you’re willing to take a modicum of risk, then coming to market should be a consideration.”
“The market hasn’t been perfect since 2006; however, it’s in reasonably good shape. We recommend that you come to market as soon as possible. You never know what’s going to happen in the future…”
This happens a lot and actually happened right in front of me – I was Banker #2! I wrote down (as fast as I could) what Banker #1 was saying on the client conference call because the other banker was known for his ostentatious display of words, and I needed material for this article!
So, when dealing with clients keep it clear, otherwise they will not trust you. I’ll end this article with my favorite quote on the subject:
The great enemy of clear language is insincerity. When there is a gap between one’s real and one’s declared aims, one turns instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms.