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Book Review: Why Business People Speak Like Idiots: A Bullfighter’s Guide

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Sometimes I’ve felt like an idiot while reading a report or article. I’d read it… then read it again and think, “I don’t get it. What was that about?” When this happens, take comfort knowing that it’s not you. It’s the author.

Most of us have caught on to corporations’ bull. My favorite: When they say “synergy” at a merger announcement, we know they mean “layoffs.” Why say, “utilize” when “use” does the job nicely? But not all of us come with built-in bull radar and we don’t know all the bull words. The book teaches more than killing jargon.

The Bullfighter’s Guide looks at four traps that stop our messages from getting across clearly. Meet our first guest: Obscurity Trap. It’s the empty calories of communication. Meaningless and wasteful. At least, when we get such calories from sweets, we enjoy it. Not with the obscure talk. To beat the guest at his game, use plain language.

Next up is the Anonymity Trap. Companies love to assimilate their people. Get them all to talk the same. Produce the same results. Leave the personality out. While templates make jobs easier, they also lead people into this trap. Add a jolt of personality and you won’t have trouble dodging this one.

The Hard-Sell Trap sounds like its name. The mascot for this one is the “stereotypical car salesman.” Customers have gotten smarter and when they sniff out a hard-sell, they run. The last guest is Tedium Trap. Reports and presentations that spout out numbers in droves put people to sleep or cause their eyeballs to roll. Fight the bull through storytelling, conversation, personality, and recreation.

Throughout the book, the authors cover these four traps and give examples of how to duck them. Hey, they even do makeovers on presentations by replacing cheesy art with pictures that have impact and bring out a chuckle. Also included is a listing of movie titles with great quotes and themes that fit most business presentations. Oh, no, the authors don’t encourage you to present the whole movie — just a clip — enough for effect.

If only high schools and colleges would adopt this book and its approach. Writing for school has become too structured; it’s no wonder we struggle with creativity. When can we see a sequel with more examples? We need a lot of help breaking years of bad writing habits with great laughs along the way. It’s not often a book comes along that’s a pleasure to read while it teaches.

Meryl does all she can to ensure her content doesn’t sound like it was written by an idiot, but she has her “off” days as a result of years of bad habits…

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About Meryl K Evans

Meryl K. Evans, Content Maven, is the author of "Brilliant Outlook Pocketbook" and the co-author of "Adapting to Web Standards: CSS and Ajax for Big Sites." She has written and edited for a bunch of places online and off. A native Texan, she lives a heartbeat north of Dallas in Plano, Texas with her husband and three kiddos.
  • This is an innovative, solution-based post.

  • ochairball

    business people speak jargon, indeed, but any decent journalist would never use the words “utilize,” “synergy,” etc. It’s their job to break down the jargon.

  • I, too, loved this book – so I googled the title to find other like-minded people who’s writing I might enjoy – and found you. I’ll come back to read more because, as a speaker and author I still find that I am often my own worst enemy re clarity and brevity. Thank you!