Boards' ask of C-level execs? Plain language

Corporate and industry jargon is holding less weight with board directors, who are increasingly making an effort to bar it from the boardroom completely, Fortune reports.

The move away from unnecessarily specialized or coded language requires changes of both executives and board members. When daily operations and conversations are peppered with jargon, it takes some habit reversal to weed it out. 

"On the surface, it can look like an attempt to obfuscate and confuse, when it's generally not that," Barbra Kingsley, PhD, chair of the nonprofit Center for Plain Language, told Fortune. "It's people that are just trying to be efficient and speedy and take complex concepts or terms or whatever and use the jargon that is commonly known within some subset of the business community."

Board members usually accept jargon if their familiarity or understanding of an industry outside their own is limited. But if they want executives to use plain language, they too will have to step up their insider know-how to better press for simplicity and ask clarifying questions. A groupwide push for simple language can help eliminate fears of asking "dumb questions," which are often necessary to establish understanding. 

For executives, plain language is not only a matter of word choice but necessity and concision. This translates not only to the spoken word, but to written materials, slide decks and presentations. Organizations can place greater emphasis on the audience's perspective to help executives, speakers and presenters properly tailor their communication. 

Will Houston, from executive search firm Egon Zehnder, told Fortune one of the most impressive presentations he knows of was delivered by a CISO who condensed everything the directors of a power company needed to know into one PowerPoint slide.

"'These are the bad actors that are trying to attack us; these are the means they're using to do it; this is the vulnerability that they're trying to exploit; this is what we're doing to address that vulnerability; this is what it'll cost us if we're unsuccessful. And then this is what it's going to cost for us to address it; this is how much we can reduce the risk — in a real clear visual layout,'" Mr. Houston said. "Two or three of the board members came up to him afterward and said, 'This is the first time I've understood where we stand and what we're doing.'"

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