Drop the Jargon

One of the first things I ask a client when they tell me they’ve booked a speaking gig is, “What’s your goal for this event?” 

For newer or nervous speakers, the top 2 responses I get are:

“I want people to see me as an expert in my field.” 


“I want to sound smart.”

Totally fair. 

Who doesn’t want to be viewed as an expert in their field? 

But unfortunately, while this goal is completely understandable, it’s also completely doomed. 

That’s right. The voice in your head telling you to aim for “sounding smart” is leading you down a dark path. 

A path that ends in my biggest public speaking pet-peeve… jargon

We’ve all heard it (and we’ve probably all used it in an insecure moment). 

Jargon is defined as “special words or expressions that are used by a particular profession or group and are difficult for others to understand.”

Some professions are particularly susceptible to jargon, like lawyers, doctors, and techies

But truth be told, no industry is immune from it. 

If you go into a talk preoccupied with the idea of “sounding like an expert,” you are far more likely to fall into this trap. 

For instance, I might introduce myself to a room by saying,

“Hi, I’m a public speaking coach. I help non-thespians utilize dramaturgy in order to evoke catharsis and the impulse to act.”

This introduction screams “I got a BFA in theatre from NYU! Can’t you tell?!”

Unfortunately, it communicates little else. 

Here’s what happens when I translate that sentence from jargon to English: 

“Hi, I’m a public speaking coach. I help professionals use storytelling to move an audience to action.”

Not as flashy, but 100x more effective in communicating what I actually do.

And that is ultimately why the goal “I want to sound smart” is always a doomed proposition.

Because that goal is centered around you and not your audience

Speaking in jargon might make you feel smart, but that can come with a terrible trade-off: You can inadvertently make your audience feel dumb

All this can be avoided by making one subtle adjustment when you prepare your presentation. 

When you set a goal for a speaking event, don’t ask: “How do I 

want to look/sound?” 

Instead ask, “What do I want my audience to feel/do?” 

Ask the right questions, and you’ll be speaking the audience’s language in no time!

Photograph of Sara Glancy on stairs
Headshot by Jessica Osber.

Sara Glancy is an NYC-based actor and public speaking coach and the founder of Speak Masterfully, a service that helps professionals take the stage with less fear and more fun! 

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