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Swansea really does have jargon busters

On Tuesday, we ran a game at the Swansea Behaviour Change Festival. We called it 'Swansea’s Got Jargon*-Busters'.

*Jargon: a word or phrase not used in everyday life, or that is being used with a different, special meaning. It often goes with waffling and speaking too fast.

We wanted to see if, when faced with a panel of three people with learning difficulties, people could talk for 2 minutes about their job or what they'd learned at the Festival without using jargon. If someone on the panel couldn't understand them easily, they would buzz. Three buzzes and you're out. If you are still going at 2 minutes, you got a rosette saying 'I'm a Jargon Buster'. 


  • People who took part, the panel and the observers were surprised and pleased that people succeeded.
  • Face to face communication is easier than communicating in writing.
  • Jargon is comfortable.
  • You need to know your subject to be able to explain it without jargon.
  • If you find a connection with the people, communicating ideas is easier
  • The keys were:
    • Slow down
    • Think before you speak
    • Use personal stories or comparisons to everyday life
  • Most people who took part felt pressured. Remember that feeling next time you are the one in control. It’s likely that is how the other person is feeling.

If you want to know more detail, keep reading! Otherwise, before you click away, we have something we'd like you to reflect on:
If you can only say it in jargon, maybe you don't understand it well enough to make changes and DO it.
Maybe, just maybe, learning to explain things in everyday language could break the cycle of good intentions and great policies that never quite deliver the change they want.

Feedback from the panel
  • Stories were good. There were words that would be jargon in a different context, but the context made the meaning clear.
  • Some people used jargon but immediately explained it and that was OK.
  • Some words are OK when they are spoken, but would have been jargon if they’d been written down, like ‘legislation’.
  • It feels comfortable to put professionals on the spot. Usually it’s the other way round, with professionals putting us on the spot. What you felt about pressure and it being nerve-wracking is how we usually feel when we meet you.
  • It’s a shame we didn’t buzz people more. We were too nice, and they were too good!
  • Interesting mix of people. I thought they’d all be suits. But they weren’t.
  • They had their filtering systems on overdrive. When they spoke, they were thinking and taking their time, like “I’ve got that word, no, throw it out and find another”,
  • Someone ran out of things to say because they weren’t waffling. They said what they wanted to say quicker because they used less words.
  • It’s the context. It doesn’t matter if it is the same word for different meanings if the context is clear. And if it’s jargon that includes the word ‘system’, you need to teach people in clear language what the jargon phrase means before you use it.
  • Compare the thing you want to explain to something we already understand. Someone used Swiss cheese to explain risk. Someone used eggs to explain how the environment and economy fit together.  We used what they said to explain it to someone else when we got back to the office, and they understood our explanation.
  • Consciously or not, talkers get direct feedback from the body language and facial expressions of the audience. This is something you can’t do in written info.

Feedback from observers
  • Stories worked.
  • Panel members could re-tell what they’d been told not just immediately after, but the next day. That means people communicated really clearly and engagingly.
  • People often started by assuming they would get buzzed in the first few seconds. We were surprised how many people won rosettes, and so were most of the people who won them. It showed that people are better at communicating than they (and we) think they are. 

Feedback from people who tried and succeeded (ie everyone who tried!)
  • I felt comfortable. I thought I’d done well to tell a personal story in a way that people could understand what I said.
  • The point of the game to me was that people experienced what it means to communicate effectively. As soon as it is face to face, communicating is a different story. You get instant feedback on whether you are communicating. It’s much harder to communicate with fliers.
  • The clock and the panel really made you think about it. I’m bound to go back to jargon. I really don’t want to, but I know I will resort to the shorthand of jargon because it is comfortable for me. I need a Barod app that pings up when I’m talking to people!
  • It was quite nerve wracking. I didn’t know if it made sense. When the panel were smiling, I wondered if they were just being polite. But it was fun.
  • It depends on the subject. If I go into my job in detail, I will get buzzed. It’s being conscious that if you go down one route it will inevitably send you down the route where jargon is the common language.
  • Prepare before, or know your subject sufficiently well to be able to say it without jargon.
  • It made me realise that sometimes all you understand about the thing you are explaining is the jargon, not what the jargon means.
  • Sometimes it is the safe option to stick to jargon, especially if you are a civil servant.
  • It was tense, pressured in the booth. That was part of the fun of it, to see if you can do it under pressure. It gets you thinking about it. When you get in the flow, if you slow yourself down and think about it you can say it in simple language.
  • After the game, once we went into conversation and I relaxed, I got buzzed. The game gets people really thinking about it.
  • It puts you on the spot. When you think about it, you do it. People are quite capable of doing it when you try. I’m very surprised, very pleased to get my rosette.
  • It’s comforting to slip into a world where you don’t try.
  • It isn’t always simplifying. It’s speaking to a different audience. A lot of organisations do pin badges for lanyards. How about a Barod logo badge for people who have learned to speak to different audiences?
  • It really makes you think when you know you will get buzzed for jargon. It really challenges you. It is nerve wracking.

Barod Community Interest Company

22nd September 2016


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