Talking in a bubble

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About the risk for project managers of using too many buzz words in their communication.
Project meetings and presentations can be fun, interesting and engaging. They also can be a painful exercise, especially when the project manager communicates from inside a bubble, stringing together over-used buzzwords and reading from overloaded PowerPoint presentations, rather than engaging with his audience. Just a cliché or potential problem?

Working as a project coach provides the unique opportunity to participate in project meetings and status presentations in steering committees, project team meetings or staff meetings in various industries. As a coach, my job is to prepare project managers for their communication. Once the meeting has started, my task is to step back, observe interaction between project manager and audience and to provide feedback to the project manager.

One of the most common pitfalls for any project manager is „talking in a bubble“. Using phrases and buzzwords which might be meaningful in the mind of the presenter, but either make it hard for the audience to understand the content of the matter or to see the relevance of the topic.


Phrases like “we need to work smarter not harder”, „this will be a paradigm shift“ or „we need to create synergies, go for the low hanging fruits to get the biggest bank for the buck and take ownership, keeping the big picture in view and walk the talk – but in a participatory way“ are absolute killers for an engaged discussion. They actually make people angry. You can literally read peoples faces as they ask themselves, “Do they have a clue what is required to solve this problem?” Or even „Why am I listening to this?“.

Here are our actual top 10 for buzzword mania in project management meetings and presentations which have the potential to get an audience angry:

  1. Outside of the box

  2. Customer-centric

  3. Blue sky thinking

  4. Paradigm shift

  5. Participatory

  6. Drink the Kool Aid

  7. Ownership

  8. Analysis paralysis

  9. Leveraging

  10. Managing expectations


Why do project managers get into situations, where their mouth runs on auto-pilot, producing expressions which are commonly used, but often meaningless? Often the answer is: LACK OF PREPARATION.

Looking at the root causes and working with project managers on their communication, here are a few tips you might find useful:

1. What are the objectives of your presentation?
What do you want to get as a result of your presentation? What should the audience do? Do you seek approval? Do you want to gain support for the extra mile which people have to go? Are you presenting an achievement? Based on your objectives and target audience, your presentation should be tailor-made in regards to messaging and choice of words. Having project managers running from presentation to presentation and using the same presentation for different audiences and objectives, is often a recipe for failure.

2. Sell the benefit: Build Relevance for the Audience
What is you target group? What are your key messages? How are these messages relevant for your audience. If you want your audience to listen, talk about the effects an issue have, rather than explaining technical details. Why is it important to address a particular problem? What are the consequences for your audience?

3. Practical Demonstration before Theory Slides
How can you best attract the attention of your audience? The answer is not a 30 minute PowerPoint movie with font size 14. The answer is a demonstration. You are talking about a functionality that the new ERP system can do? Show it. Wherever you can, let people touch, see feel your project and how it relates to their work. If you decide to use visual support on the screen, go for simple pictures rather than theory slides.

4. Build simple structure, use visualisation (What? Why? How?)
Your presentation should enable the audience to understand 1. What are we talking about (avoid technical terms where possible), 2 Why is this relevant (what are the benefits)? and 3. How will the task be solved (avoid technical details, highlight concrete contributions required from the audience). Developing a simple structure takes time. It is an investment, which pays off quickly. Simplification and focus. „Here are the 18 biggest improvements of our new packaging machine.“
Such a presentation would of course make your audiences brain explode. Professional project managers focus on key messages, which are most relevant for your target audience. Science recommends to slice presentations in 3 items. A solution could be „Our new packaging machine provides over 18 ground breaking improvements. Here are the top three from the perspective of our largest customers…“

5. Inspire your audience
Great project managers close their presentations with something uplifting and inspiring. Their presentations are relevant, engaging, entertaining, and informative. So can you. It takes work, planning, and creativity, but if someone is willing to listen to your ideas it’s worth the effort to make it great.

It is the job of a project coach to support project managers in the analysis and prioritisation of stakeholders as well as their communication need. The coach is a mental sparing partner in the preparation of the communication. Our project management methodologies, agile and classic SPACE, provide tools to plan your communication strategically. Contact us for more information.


Markus Hesse

Markus is the co-founder and managing partner of CoThink Germany. He combines experience as consultant and coach on international projects in a variety of industries for Fortune 500 and mid-sized companies with experience in executive management of international organisations. His core competencies are agile strategies, project management and transformative change programmes. Markus Hesse educational background includes a M.A. in Business Coaching and Change Management. He is author for the EURO-FH university in Hamburg on change management.

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