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Media Interviewee Drowns in Sea of Jargon Shocker

Quit smoking campaigners ASH scored a page lead on the Guardian website recently with a timely survey about those who’d given up smoking since Covid-19 started. Their chairman Dr Nick Hopkinson is a respiratory specialist at Imperial College London. No slouch. But perhaps his concise and authoritative quote needed a bit more jeopardy to hammer the point home.

“Evidence is growing that smoking is associated with worse outcomes in those admitted to hospital with Covid-19”, he said. Could it have read: “if you smoke, the chances of dying from Coronavirus are a lot higher, so quit now”? There’s not a lot in it, I know. But language needs to be dynamic. It needs to influence, not just explain.

Every industry is packed full of TLAs – three letter acronyms – and associated mysterious concepts that offer insight, flexibility, abbreviation and short cuts for those working there. The story of the BBC’s engineer in charge of engineering innovation operations who had ‘E.I.E.I.O’ on his office door at Broadcasting House is probably apocryphal but it makes a good point. If you dance from your day job into a media interview, you won’t have peeled off the language of the job – and it’ll inevitably pop up while you’re talking to a reporter.

Sometimes it’s about confidence: it may be that you don’t trust yourself to deliver the line without sticking to terminology that’s familiar to you on a daily basis. It’s a courageous idea but, once again, runs the risk of the audience being given extra ’homework’ to do, meaning your much prized media appearance creates little impact.

Remember, it’s not what you say, it’s what your audience do as a result that counts. And with the need to process so much incoming information, these days, you might only have one ‘shot’!