Click to learn more about author Cathy Nolan.

I was recently reminded of a game we used to play during particularly boring meetings and presentations called .  Several people claimed to have invented the game and it was very popular for a period of time when buzzwords were fairly new to and it was more of a challenge to fill in your bingo card – unlike now when we are overrun with a proliferation of “buzzy” terms.

Some enterprising soul had printed a type of Bingo card where each square was a buzzword, like “synergy”, “bandwidth”, “granularity”, “paradigm shift”, and the detested “low ”.  I decided to look up the term and to my surprise, Buzzword Bingo had made it into Wikipedia.  Here’s the definition according to them:

“Buzzword Bingo is generally played in situations where audience members feel that the speaker is relying too heavily on buzzwords or lingo rather than providing relevant details or clarity. Business meetings led by guest speakers or notable company personalities from higher up the pay scale are often viewed as a good opportunity for buzzword bingo.”

20 years have gone by since I first played Buzzword Bingo, and in my opinion, it’s time to bring the game cards back into meetings. While terms such as “run it up the flagpole” and “outside the box” have gone out of vogue, there are so many new ones that you can create an entire set of bingo cards and never duplicate phrases.

Here’s another quote from Wikipedia regarding Marketing Speak (a relative of Corporate Jargon) which is similar to Buzzword Bingo.

“Marketing speak is a related label for wording styles used to promote a product or service to a wide audience by seeking to create the impression that the vendors of the service possess a high level of sophistication, skill, and technical knowledge.”

I decided to look at some of the vendor internet sites and found a trove of buzzwords and you can do the same or use a copy of my Buzzword Bingo card to amuse yourself at the next vendor presentation or company meeting.  Yes, I had to put “Low Hanging Fruit” in the middle just to see if anyone is still using that outdated analogy but don’t forget the middle square in bingo is a “free” square.  It didn’t take me long to fill up a bingo card and I could have continued to design an entire set from just a couple vendor software sites!

Have you gone to an Agile meeting lately?  Why are we using the terms “scrum” instead of a team meeting, “epic” instead of project, “story” instead of task?  Or how about trying to deal with your Human Resource department?  Did you encounter words like Inclusion, Empowerment, Touchpoint, Soft-skills, Onboarding, Synthesize, or Talent Relationship Management? Not to mention IT with their Dashboarding, Facilitated Exchanges, Intuitive Alignment, Benchmarking, Microservices and Dark Data.

Closely akin to buzzwords are metaphors that Americans may use, but are not clearly understood in our globalized world.   In a recent meeting with international attendees I heard a person say, “we don’t want to disclose what is in the sausage.”  I’m sure the people from Germany were thinking “what kind of sausage, Bratwurst? Weisswurst?” and the people from India and Korea couldn’t recognize what the speaker was talking about.  It’s not easy staying away from these phrases, I almost wrote “didn’t have a clue” instead of recognize in the previous sentence.

Buzzwords eventually go out of style and while you might think you appear intelligent, clever, and up-to-date, often they have the opposite effect, particularly when the word or phrase is overused and the buzzword becomes a cliché.  Take a minute to think about your next presentation, is that smile you see in the audience aimed at your brilliance or are you filling up someone’s bingo card?  And acronyms, that’s a whole other subject—maybe another blog!

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