“I did very badly at that exercise”, confessed one marketing executive to me during a workshop this week, “I used so much jargon that I was thrown out of the cocktail party”.

He was one of fifteen members of Forrester’s Technology Marketing Council, and they were all at an imaginary cocktail party answering the question, “What does your company do?” All the attendees were marketing executives of multi-million pound IT companies with extremely successful products so you would think that this would have been an easy task. Wrong.

In fact this is a question that multi-billion pound technology company CEOs dread at dinner parties,

I know, I have run story coaching sessions for them too. It is very common to be so immersed in the detail of your business, that you can’t see past it to put together a simple audience-friendly version of the story in real world language.

At the Forrester workshop we had spent the last hour identifying the elements in each executives’ company story that an audience would relate to. This had gone really well, but actually bringing these elements together using engaging, colloquial language and not slipping back into well-worn phrases proved to be extremely challenging. The group persevered in their search for audience-friendly language, and by doing so, became more aware of how much jargon and stock-phrases they had been relying on.

The cocktail party setting turned out to really productive for the marketers, if I had asked them to put together a pitch they would have reverted to old habits.  The the social code of a party is that you don’t embarrass people by talking in language they don’t understand, you don’t bore people by giving them detail they don’t need, and you try and offer people a version of the truth that is relevant to them and their world.  It made the marketers work harder and I would say it is not a bad set of rules for all of us to adhere when engaging with potential customers or partners.

A simple clear expression of what you do and the value of it is marketing gold dust,

and the value is not just in what you communicate, it is also in how you feel about communicating it. . When people communicate using too much detail, jargon and stock phrases they are distanced from their subject matter, but when they work to make a product, offer or brand more relevant and meaningful to their audience, I see time and time again that people reconnect with what excites them about it.

The technology represented in the room at that Forrester event was achieving some extraordinary things for its respective clients and I hope some attendees left the session feeling more connected to those stories and excited about telling them.

I would urge you to have a go at the cocktail party test yourself.

If you can’t express what your company does to a ‘party guest’ in 2 minutes without seeing them glaze over you may well find that your branding and marketing is having the same effect on potential customers too.