Over the past few years, we’ve seen quite notable changes in the language used by many public figures – and not in a good way. More and more words are typically being used in interviews, with less and less actual meaning. If you want real credibility as an interviewee – steer clear of this trend at all costs! The debate came into sharp focus this month, as The Guardian’s Nesrine Malik hit out at politicians who are increasingly using what she calls ‘corpspeak’ when attempting to communicate with voters, while Holly Willoughby was much mocked on her return to daytime TV’s This Morning after the controversial departure of co-host Philip Schofield. She opened with a barrage of therapy-speak – “Are you OK?”, we “have a lot to process” and so on. The Times’s Helen Rumbelow tartly described this as ‘the merging of Instagram, daytime television and psychobabble into a new secular religion’. She said it was the ‘lingua franca of Instagram: earnest sayings, oozing from meme to T-shirt to Cushion, helpful or hackneyed depending on taste’.
Meanwhile it was the language increasingly used by today’s politicians that found itself in the crosshairs at The Guardian. The sharply observant Ms Malik observed that elected representatives of all parties are sliding into what she terms as ‘corpspeak’ because they have nothing to say. Phrases such as ‘ordinary working people’, and ‘focused on delivering for Britain’ trip from the lips of Sir Keir Starmer and Rishi Sunak, with others such as ‘mission-driven’ policies and ‘sleeves rolled-up partnerships’ also in the mix. It seems to be about mangling the language to be able to use as many words as possible to say as little as possible. In interviews, viewers and listeners are supposed to come away with the impression that these are determined and principled men of action, but actually it is all so vague and woolly that most of us will remember little if any of what was said. When a politician says ‘let me be clear’, you know they’re usually going to be quite the opposite.
Of course, all of this comes on top of the layers of corporate jargon which we all know have accumulated over the past couple of decades, that we have frequently bemoaned. When we are carrying out media training, we often find people using their own industry terms and phrases without realising how corporate they sound. As we always say, if you’re trying to convince a broad audience, stick to plain language people can relate to. Explain things the way you would to an intelligent friend in the pub, rather than the way you would put it in an internal meeting. In interviews, avoid all such woolly talk and call a spade a spade, not an ‘executive digging implement’!
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