Picture this: You’re in a meeting room with five colleagues, all from different departments. The leader of the meeting reads out the agenda, and at the end squawks like a parrot. The woman across the table speaks and she, too, ends with a squawk. The same with the next person. Finally, you speak. To your surprise, at the end of your thought, you squawk as well.
Now picture this: You’re in a meeting room with five colleagues, all from different departments. The leader of the meeting reads out the agenda and uses the phrase, ‘reach out’. The woman across the table speaks and she, too, uses the phrase ‘reach out’. So does the next person. Finally, you speak. To your surprise, at the end of your thought, you say, ‘reach out’ as well.
In the ten years I’ve been in this industry, I have noticed an ever-increasing tendency to use words that sound good, but have no real meaning. The term ‘reach out’ is one of the most current examples. When you say you’re going to ‘reach out’ to someone, what does it really mean? Merriam-Webster doesn’t recognize the term in their online dictionary. The ever-popular thefreedictionary.com defines it in part as an ‘attempt to communicate’, but I think urbandictionary.com hits closest to the mark: ‘This has become the new cliché for yuppie types or any pseudo-intellectual types or just idiots that think it sounds special. It is simply just another way of saying: contact, call, speak to, notify, etc.’
Last week, in an effort to combat the Mid-Winter Blues, I decided to entertain myself by counting the number of times ‘reach out’ was used in a single meeting. 60 minutes. Five people. 24 uses of ‘reach out’. All of which could have been replaced with ‘call’ or ‘email’.
Even more shocking, though, was my realization that a new, equally useless word was emerging as a contender for the ‘reach out of 2014’ title.
Now, as an aside, like most people, I don’t always pay a lot of attention during meetings. I get the important bits, but sometimes, I’m hungry and I think about food. Other times, I’m tired and I think about having a nap. You get the idea – I’m not always 100% focused. But this exercise forced me to focus on the meeting and on the group.
Yes, right alongside ‘reach out’, we had rampant and gratuitous use of ‘individual’. There was talk of groups (of individuals). There was talk of this individual. That individual. The other individual. Person, people, Lana, David, He and Her have all become individuals that need to be reached out to.
And since that meeting, I’ve started to notice it everywhere. Not just in conversation, but in print as well. Pick up a copy of a local paper (doesn’t matter which one, since none of them are properly edited any more) and you will see articles littered with the word. Try it. Bonus points if you can also find ‘myriad’ used incorrectly.
Here is what I propose:
The next time you’re in a meeting, say what you mean in as few words possible. If you need to call the client, don’t say, ‘I’m going to reach out to that individual.’ Say, ‘I’m going to call Shane.’ It’s bold. It’s declarative. It gets to the point and you’ll stand out from the crowd.
We spend so much of our time working on our clients’ brands to make their communications as clear and concise as possible, we should also consider what our communication style says about our personal brands.