Networking Mistake: Using Jargon Without Thinking

If you were at a work-related function in, say, New York or Chicago, would you address people in Portuguese? Probably not. But you’d be surprised by how many businesspeople lapse into foreign "languages." I’m talking about using technical or industry-specific jargon.

Here’s an example from an encounter I had at a recent networking event…

"I work for HP," the gentleman said, handing me his card. (People often introduce themselves by identifying their employer.) First warning sign: He didn’t use the company’s full name – Hewlett-Packard.

"And what do you do for HP?" I asked.

"I’m in print management," he said.

Uh oh. Jargon! I knew what print meant. And I knew what management meant. But I didn’t know what they meant together. (Do you?)

Using words or phrases that have special meanings within an industry is a sure way to stop a conversation with someone outside the industry well before it’s started. So if your goal is to catch – and keep – the interest of someone you’re meeting for the first time, it’s always best to speak in a "language" everyone can understand. In other words, instead of saying, "I’m in print management," you would say something like, "I handle the printing of all publications for our company."

Or, "I write emotional and compelling sales letters for non profit organizations" instead of "I’m a fundraising copywriter."

Or for me, instead of saying, "I’m a marketing consultant," I could say something like, "I show people who work for themselves how to get the clients they want." You get the point…

True, when speaking to industry insiders, jargon can signal that you are "in the know." In a situation like that, it makes sense to use jargon strategically – to build trust and credibility. But don’t throw it around – even in answer to the simple question "What do you do?" – if you’re not certain you know who you’re talking to.

[Ed. Note: Marketing expert Ilise Benun is the author of The Designer’s Guide to Marketing and Pricing. Get more self-marketing strategies with Ilise’s free e-newsletter, Quick Tips from Marketing Mentor.

Networking is one of the best ways to find new clients, meet potential partners, and discover people who can help your business grow. For ideas about how to accomplish your networking goals – and all your other personal and professional goals – check out ETR’s Total Success Achievement Program.]