Don’t default to the default

I was on a flight recently and the attendant made the announcement that ‘we will be dimming the lights for taking off and landing as your crew today are older and it makes us look better’. I thought this was fantastic as it was still getting the message across but deviating from the script.

In my latest book, Real Communication: How to be you and lead true, one of the aspects I explore is having the courage to be yourself and not revert automatically to what everyone else is doing.

In business, I see a lot of people defaulting to the default. Either not having the permission or the courage to do something different.

There are four everyday aspects of business where I often this. But I think if you have the courage to move away from the default you could experience some surprising results.

  1. Using PowerPoint

I was once mentoring a client for a presentation and suggested that she didn’t need to use PowerPoint due to the size of her audience. Her response was “But people will think I am not prepared”. This is one of the reasons we default to PowerPoint …we think it is expected. Another reason for people is that they see it as an aide for presenting. Predominantly they use it as a script, so they don’t forget what they were going to say. This normally leads to text-heavy slides that the presenter reads. Naturally, this has negative impacts on communication.

The first question you should ask yourself when it comes to using PowerPoint is, “Do you really need it?”. The answer should be based on whether it helps the audience NOT the presenter.

If you do use PowerPoint, at a bare minimum reduce the amount of text and number of bullet points on each slide. Also, consider including personal photos or high-quality images (avoid overused stock photos!) in your communications instead of text.

  1. 60-minute meetings

Like PowerPoint, 60-minute meetings have become the default. This can be linked to our use of calendar apps that automatically create 60-minute meetings. In Donna McGeorge’s book The 25 Minute Meeting, she explains that because of this, somewhere along the way our brain has defaulted to this setting too.

McGeorge explains that we are cushioning our meetings with extra fat — that is, a whole bunch of unnecessary time and waffle. Like wasting time for latecomers, fixing technology (probably to make sure the PowerPoint is working) and waffling or going off track.

The key points from this book are that you can make your meetings more effective, and your overall communication land with more impact by using some really simple methods. These include:

  • Inviting only those people who really need to be there (stop CCing absolutely everyone …another default).
  • Attending only if you really need to be there and ensuring the meeting has a clear purpose (identify the intended outcome).
  • Arriving, starting and finishing on time.
  1. Using jargon

Jargon is the default language of business. We use it sometimes to avoid answering questions or speaking the truth. We also use it to sound smarter than we actually are. But the most common reason we use it is to fit in.

Acceptance is probably one of our greatest desires as humans …to be connected to each other, often at any cost. As a result, we act, dress and talk in a certain way to fit in. All it takes is a senior person or an external consultant to start using a particular phrase and, in most cases, gradually everyone else starts to use it.

Regardless of why we use jargon, there are consequences. One of the biggest negative outcomes when using jargon is that it can lead to disconnection and miscommunication.

So, unless you are positive everyone understands the jargon term you are using, you are potentially confusing or isolating people. As George Orwell advised, ‘Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent’.

  1. Reducing everything to the acronym

Another default we have in business is our addiction to reducing everything to an acronym. Kate, a client of mine, recently moved to a new role and industry. She was immediately confronted with an overwhelming number of new words, phrases and acronyms.

Kate recalls early on in her role reading a ten-page report where the final page was devoted to a glossary that listed all the acronyms used in the previous nine pages. Kate constantly had to refer to the glossary to interpret the information in the report. She found the whole experience not only frustrating but also time-consuming.

As a result, she asked her team to rewrite the report with all the acronyms expanded and therefore remove the need for a glossary page. Guess how long that made the report? The same, ten pages!  Kate has now implemented a communication guideline in her team and that is to expand all acronyms.

So, as you go about your workday, I invite you to consider if you default to the default.  Ask yourself why you are doing things a certain way and have the courage to deviate from the norm.

Gabrielle Dolan is a best-selling author and international speaker on business storytelling and authentic leadership. She is also the founder of Jargon Free Fridays. Her latest book Real Communication: How to be you and lead true, is published by Wiley. Follow this link to find out more about Gabrielle.


Gabrielle Dolan

Gabrielle Dolan is the best selling author and international speaker on business storytelling and authentic leadership. She is also the founder of Jargon Free Fridays. Her latest book, Real Communication: How to be you and lead true, hits books stores around the globe on 1st May. If you want to be one of the first to receive it, you can pre-order your copies here. Follow this link to find out more about Gabrielle.

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