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September 24, 2009  11:12 AM

For Effective Communication with Diverse Business Groups, Drop the Jargon

Ivy Wigmore Ivy Wigmore Profile: Ivy Wigmore

Today’s guest post is by Robert Malmrose.

Jargon can be good. It has its place. The online dictionary, Dictionary.com, defines jargon as “1. the language, esp. the vocabulary, peculiar to a particular trade, profession, or group…”[1]

Jargon is a great method for two equally qualified professionals in the same business group to communicate ideas quickly. They both already agree on the definition of the underlying acronym or “term of art” and can rapidly exchange ideas as if fluently speaking a foreign language.

But now Bill, your tech savvy architect in the Security Group, and Tim, your hands-on “go to” guy in the Networking Group, are explaining to Sally, the most tech-savvy employee on the compliance team, and George, the guy in marketing who wanted his application “secured” before rollout, that Bill and Tim will need 2 more months and a budget amendment to create a “DLP” methodology to co-exist with their “DRM” implementation to be properly monitored by the “SEM” system when deployed.

Sally and George will understand the delay and cost overrun, won’t they? Well… probably not.

In fact, most non-IT people would have little idea what the acronyms, “DLP”, “DRM, and “SEM” actually meant, even though Bill and Tim were sincerely trying to explain the situation to Sally and George.

Jargon has a dark side. The second definition from Dictionary.com defines jargon as “2. unintelligible or meaningless talk or writing; gibberish.”

Too often in business meetings and in writing, IT professionals fail to connect with the other people in their company because of jargon. Even when we have the best intentions, we’re all guilty of this behavior to some degree. Holding advanced knowledge in a profession, such as IT, necessarily requires jargon for efficient day-to-day business activities among similarly trained teammates.

However, when we unconsciously slip jargon into discussions with other business groups or consciously use jargon to impress meeting attendees with the depth of our qualifications, jargon derails the other person’s train of thought and undermines the effectiveness of our presentations.

In the above hypothetical example, Bill, Tim, Sally, and George, are like characters in the tale of the four blind men who chance upon an elephant for the first time. As the story goes, the first man touches the leg and thinks that an elephant is like the trunk of a tree. The second touches the side of the elephant and thinks it’s like a large wall. The third grabs the trunk and says it’s like a snake, while the fourth touches the tail and thinks it’s like a rope.

Similarly, jargon prevents IT professionals from defining and communicating both business challenges and solutions to other business divisions. The result is lost time and energy and a risk that a project never receives proper consideration by all necessary parties. Plus, the detrimental effect of jargon increases as the number of participants in the discussion increases.

Jargon introduces additional communication missteps. When an IT professional uses jargon, people may interrupt a speaker to ask what a piece of jargon means. This breaks the rhythm of the presentation and indicates that the speaker is not being effective.

Conversely, some people will not interrupt when they hear an unknown term, either because they feel that interrupting the speaker is inappropriate at that particular moment or because they do not want to appear unintelligent in front of the group. However, you have lost communicative effectiveness because these people will no longer follow your delivery in its entirety and may even have lost interest in your topic completely.

Most business people who use jargon are overestimating the ability of the audience to remember new technical terms being heard for the first time. Even worse, some people have little awareness or concern that their jargon is preventing them from delivering their message to their audience. They are limiting their own communication abilities for no apparent reason.

Finally, miscommunication through jargon does not only occur between IT staff and the rest of the company. In larger organizations with large IT groups, jargon threatens to reduce communication effectiveness between IT groups with different skill sets and training. For example, an application developer first hearing the terms used by an information security architect, such as “defense in depth” and “least privilege”, may make assumptions about the meaning of these terms that are not correct.

Here are some suggestions to try to make your next memo, business meeting, or presentation a “jargon free” zone when communicating with business people who are unfamiliar with the technical aspects of your career but who are necessary for you to persuade or inform:

· AVOID USING ACRONYMS OR “TERMS OF ART” – Because you probably use acronyms routinely as professional short-hand with your closest team members, you have a tendency to use them unconsciously in meetings, presentations, and memos when speaking with non-team members.

Even if your audience or readers have seen the acronyms in other contexts, they may not even be thinking about them in the same way that you meant. For example, if you casually say “DR” in a meeting, your network engineer assumes you meant “Disaster Recovery”, while the compliance officer may be wondering why you just said “Decision Review”, and the marketing guy is thinking “Daily Report”.

Use the full term to describe a concept instead of an acronym unless the acronym has grown in usage at the company to the point that its meaning is without question. For example, use the terms, “Intrusion Detection System” and “Intrusion Prevention System”, instead of substituting the acronyms, “IDS” and “IPS”.

Do not use “terms of art”, such as “WAN”,”LAN”, or “SAN”, when your audience already has business equivalents that they understand. Instead of saying, “Do you need data stored locally or securely on the SAN?”, you could say, “Do the customer service representatives have any business reason to keep customer data stored at their desks or can we move the customer records to a location that allows us to provide you and your customers better security management?” The business user will probably think differently about the business risk when described in the second example.

· NEVER INTRODUCE MORE THAN TWO NEW ACRONYMS AT ONCE – If you must use acronyms, never use more than two new acronyms with a group or audience when the concepts are new to some members of the audience or discussion.

Even if you define your acronyms before using them, if you use more than two new acronyms in the same meeting, presentation or memo, then you are risking that the audience will not retain their meaning throughout the presentation.

If you need convincing, try this test.

Define three new 2 or 3 letter acronyms for a colleague, in a memo, on slides or orally during a discussion. (Do not tell him or her that you are testing retention.) If you used a memo or a slide, remove it from your colleague’s view. Talk about the topic for about 5 minutes while using the acronyms in slides or in your discussion. Now ask your colleague what the acronyms mean. Most people cannot accurately define two of the acronyms, let alone three of them.

· STOP AND ASK FOR FEEDBACK – If you are in a business meeting or presentation and begin to see obvious signs of confusion in the faces of the audience, take a moment to ask your audience if they have any questions about the terminology that you are using. Be sincere in your approach.

Ask in a way that sends the message that you want them to understand the importance of your message and not that they are dumb for failing to understand. Do not say, “Who doesn’t understand what’s shown on these slides?” but say, “Is there something up to this point that I haven’t made clear enough that I can clarify?”

If you have the time to speak with some presentation attendees informally before a presentation to a large group or before a business meeting, you can quickly gauge the technical aptitude of your audience as well as learn some of their jargon.

If you receive a question that is not related to terminology but some other topic, thank the person for their question and tell them that you will be happy to answer the question at the end of the presentation if the remaining material does not provide a satisfactory answer.

If the person asking the question is too senior or influential in the meeting or presentation for you to defer their question until later, then you will probably have to answer it immediately. Answer the question, ask if anyone else needs clarification with your terminology, and then move forward with the balance of your content.

· USE THEIR JARGON – If you understand your audience well enough, discuss the business problem and solution using their jargon instead of your own.

Studies have shown that people have increased brain activity and respond with greater awareness when hearing their own name versus anyone else’s name. By analogy, a business person is more likely to be engaged in a conversation when you are using their jargon to describe a problem rather than your own.

For example, instead of saying, “We prefer that the users authenticate to the device using two-factor authentication for increased security”, you might say, “We prefer that the retail sales staff are issued a smartcard that they will swipe at POS before entering a password in order to increase the protection of the consumer data generated during each sales transaction.”

If you can phrase business challenge and solution in terms understood by the other business groups, then you have a vastly greater likelihood that your business goals are in alignment with the other groups attending your meeting, presentation or written proposal.

This type of discussion technique takes practice and a concentrated effort during conversation or writing, but can pay huge dividends in leveraging your communication abilities throughout the company.

In conclusion, taking the time to learn “talk the talk” of other business departments will feel awkward until you spend a little time in finding common ground to define business processes and goals across diverse business groups. Once you have set aside your jargon, people will think of you as the person bringing the “solution” to the rest of the group.


[1] http://dictionary.reference.com/

September 23, 2009  6:34 PM

The compliance operational data store

Ivy Wigmore Ivy Wigmore Profile: Ivy Wigmore

On SearchCompliance.com, John Weathington argues for using what you’ve got and against reinventing the wheel when architecting for compliance:

“Classical business intelligence architecture contains three fundamental components: an enterprise data warehouse, an operational data store, and any number of data marts. These are the salient pieces of what data warehousing expert Bill Inmon calls a corporate information factory. If your organization doesn’t already have these pieces in place, it certainly should have the talent that understands these concepts and can construct them.

You need to leverage this corporate intellectual property instead of trying to design a new set of architectural frameworks. Think of compliance as a strategic function, and view the current data in your organization as vital input to this strategy that will be properly transformed to support your strategic goals of compliance.

In the same way your operational data store unifies your data into entities that represent the “single source of the truth,” a compliance operational data store can unify your compliance data for operational compliance intelligence. On any given day, a compliance operational data store can tell you the state of compliance for any area of the company’s concern.”


September 14, 2009  4:24 PM

Twitter and tweeting for business

Ivy Wigmore Ivy Wigmore Profile: Ivy Wigmore

Like a lot of people, I thought for a long time that Twitter was just a time-suck. It’s not — not just a time-suck, that is, although it certainly can be that if not managed with a steely eye and an iron hand.

Then I started a Twitter account, @tao_of_grammar and I started to get an idea of the many ways that people use Twitter for business purposes.

Whatever your business, chances are there’s a case to be made for Twitter. From Twitter 101 for business:

Twitter is a communication platform that helps businesses stay connected to their customers. As a business, you can use it to quickly share information with people interested in your company, gather real-time market intelligence and feedback, and build relationships with customers, partners and other people who care about your company. As an individual user, you can use Twitter to tell a company (or anyone else) that you’ve had a great—or disappointing—experience with their business, offer product ideas, and learn about great offers.

  • It can help build your brand
    As Kaitlyn Wilkins writes on Fresh Influence, brands are built — or torn down — lightning-fast on Twitter. No other medium has the capacity to get a message out as quickly to a large group of people. She describes how a tweet about a bad experience with UHaul customer service prompted dozens of others to tweet about their own bad experiences. And all the people following those people would see their messages:

    “So, for those of you playing along at home – in less than two hours, dozens of people responded to a single Tweet regarding UHaul, and effectively told 3,763 other people that they disliked the brand.”

    People Twitter about great customer service experiences, too. The lesson is: Twitter can make your brand highly visible — make sure it looks good.

  • Address issues as they come up -
  • If UHaul was privy to the conversation about them — which they could have been, immediately, through Twitter — they could have immediately begun damage control and looked at rebuilding consumer confidence.

  • Use that same capacity to improve customer support -

    On Mashable.com, Ben Parr writes about how Twitter can improve not only customer support but also employee buy-in: It’s faster, less expensive and also gives employees a perspective on how their service impacts others. As a bonus, the whole conversation is on record.

    Kaitlin Wilkins writes about her own experience in her post on using Twitter for customer service (Well, that’s not what she calls it but… I’m not calling it “Twustomer service.” Nope.)

    A few weeks ago I was having trouble logging on and posted a frustration Tweet. Within 20 minutes I received a direct message from @sixapart providing me with an email and phone number to use to get my problem resolved immediately. An hour later I was back up and running.

    Note: She didn’t even send a message to the company’s Twitter account. They obviously track the the conversation about them, picked up on the mention and responded quickly. That kind of support and customer care gets noticed, gets tweeted about and — apparently — written about.

  • See how your brand is perceived –
  • Watching the conversation about your brand can yield important insights into public perception, issues and trends that you can use to your advantage.

  • Share content or information
  • Twitter is an amazing venue for sharing information or getting answers to questions. If you’ve got content to promote, Twitter can get it in front of a lot of people quickly. And if they like it, chances are they’ll get it in front of more people. See how that works?

  • Crowdsource -

    You also get questions in front of a lot of people quickly. People are generally more than happy to help, whether you’re looking for insights into a market or a nitty-gritty answer to a software question.

    Dan Cohen conducted a crowdsourcing experiment during the Digital Dilemmas Symposium in New York, using Twitter for a line of inquiry that traditionally queries journal readership:

    I set up what in the age of the print journal would have been a ridiculous deadline: only one hour for the crowd to solve the mystery. For a bit of theater (”stunt lecturing”?) I flashed the Twitter stream behind me from time to time during my talk.

    It took much less time than an hour for a solution: nine minutes, to be exact, for a preliminary answer and 29 minutes for a fairly rich description of the object to emerge from the collective responses of roughly a hundred participants.

    …Twitter was remarkably effective in multiplying my voice. Indeed, in the first five minutes about a dozen others on Twitter retweeted (rebroadcast) my mystery to their followers. This “Twitter multiplier effect” meant that within minutes many thousands of people got word of my experiment


  • Connect with industry leaders -

    In 5 Twitter Tactics for Building a Stellar Brand, Andy Beal explains the wrong / right way to connect:

    “Don’t be the guy that jumps on Twitter, “follows” 10,000 people, then tweets “@” them every two minutes. That’s not the type of reputation you want to build for yourself.

    Do be the guy that follows those that have influence and audience in your industry. You’ll learn a lot just from listening to their often unguarded comments, but if you have something valuable to add to their conversation, send them an @andybeal or @chrisbrogan, or @garyvee. If you can engage them in a conversation, they might just @ you back–alerting their thousands of followers that you’re a person worthy of their time, in the process.

More resources:
Chris Brogan’s 50 ideas on using Twitter for Business
Bruce Clay’s http://www.bruceclay.com/blog/archives/2009/03/twitter_your_we.html”>Twitter: Your Weapon in the Internet Marketing War
Michael Stelzner’s How to use Twitter to grow your business

Need help getting started? See Mashable’s Twitter Guide Book.

~ Ivy Wigmore


September 3, 2009  11:00 AM

Why Slackware is still being developed and why you should try it

Ivy Wigmore Ivy Wigmore Profile: Ivy Wigmore

Slackware 13.0 was released last week. Apparently there are solid reasons that it’s the oldest Linux distro still in development.

There’s a great interview with Eric Hameleers in Linux Magazine explaining why you should try Slackware. Here’s a quote:

“This continuous influx of ‘converts’ is one of the reasons that Slackware has not disappeared into oblivion. Slackware assumes you are smart! This appeals to people.”

Aha! Now I understand the pipe. (Remember “pipe-smoking intellectuals,” anyone?) That assumption might be refreshing. I know for a fact that Vista thinks I’m an idiot — and quite likely a dangerous one, at that.

~ Ivy Wigmore


September 2, 2009  8:07 PM

Skype sold for $2.7 billion

Ivy Wigmore Ivy Wigmore Profile: Ivy Wigmore
Not that I was worried about eBay’s finances, but I was glad to see that Skype had at least held its value since the purchase.
Phil Wolff writes about the sale on the Skype Journal:

It happened. Skype’s avalanche of positive cash flow attracted a bid by Skype’s founders. But others beat them to it, as last week’s rumors as reported by Mike Arrington or The Sunday Times came true.

Mark Andreessen and fellow investors plunked down $1.9b cash and allowed eBay to retain 35% investment equity. The total value is reckoned to be $2.7b. Here’s the press release.


September 2, 2009  2:10 PM

Pen testing through the mail — attack not real but the malware is

Ivy Wigmore Ivy Wigmore Profile: Ivy Wigmore

Someone’s been mailing letters purporting to be from the National Credit Union Administration to credit unions throughout the U.S. The letters ask the recipients to view training material on enclosed CDs. Not too surprisingly, the unexpected letters turned out to be fake and the CDs loaded with malware.The surprising part, though, is that the attack was fake, too.

Dennis Fisher reports:

“The malware-infected CDs that were mailed to some credit unions may have been part of a penetration test designed to gauge whether an employee would run the software. The SANS Internet Storm Center says it was notified by a representative from Microsolved that the mailing was part of an authorized pen test.”

As far as I can work it out, the letters were fake. Maybe double-fake, since they were from penetration testers pretending to be attackers pretending to be NCUA officials warning about attacks… or is that triple-fake? But nevertheless, the malware was real. The NCUA has issued a warning that playing the CDs could lead to a security breach or have other adverse consequences.

~ Ivy Wigmore


September 1, 2009  4:48 PM

Deperimeterization — outside the walled garden

Ivy Wigmore Ivy Wigmore Profile: Ivy Wigmore

Deperimeterization was widely reported to be dead a few years ago, despite the best efforts of the Jericho Foundation. Nevertheless, as Jon Oltsik wrote for CNET, the scenario that it was designed to deal with seems to be happening anyway:

“According to ESG Research, the 2004 Jericho Forum vision is now a solid reality. In a recent survey, 60 percent of enterprise (i.e. organizations with more than 1,000 employees) share confidential data with non-employees.”


August 31, 2009  12:00 PM

Privacy for cyberbullies?

Ivy Wigmore Ivy Wigmore Profile: Ivy Wigmore
“If a parent comes to you… and says that their child is being anonymously cyberbullied by someone from school, and their child is being affected at school because of it – and you do your investigation and find out the identity of the bully… do you have to keep the identity of that bully private because of FERPA?”

There’s a discussion of this issue on the Cyberbullying Prevention Website.


August 28, 2009  6:26 PM

How to send a private message on Twitter

Ivy Wigmore Ivy Wigmore Profile: Ivy Wigmore

File this under “Lessons learned through pain”: When I first started playing online Scrabble, I frequently tried to look a word up in the dictionary and didn’t realize until too late that I’d been in the chat function instead. Leaving my friends to ponder what I meant by “kraqi,” for example. And then I’d have to cleverly cover my tracks by following up with “is not a word, apparently.” Slick.

So now I’m terrified of doing something similar on Twitter and looking like an idiot not just to my nearest and dearest but to the hordes of people that might, potentially, see my message.

The only way to send a private message on Twitter, as it turns out, is to DM — direct message. Not reply or retweet, both of which will make your message public.

So, um, that said — I probably wasn’t talking to you, per se, when I asked you to pick up a bottle of wine on the way home. Then again, could it hurt?


August 4, 2009  6:32 PM

HP upgrading storage line to 6 Gbps SAS drives

Ivy Wigmore Ivy Wigmore Profile: Ivy Wigmore

Beth Pariseau reported on HP’s plans to upgrade its storage line:

Hewlett-Packard has pledged to upgrade its entire storage line to 6 Gbps small form factor (2.5-inch) Serial-Attached SCSI drives, and many expect the whole data storage industry to follow by offering 6-gig SAS as an alternative to Fibre Channel (FC) in enterprise data storage systems.


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