Friday, December 12, 2008

Do you speak the language of your users?

Many years ago, I used a local printing service that was owned by a husband and wife team. They did excellent work and attracted good clients. Sadly, they started this business as it was becoming easier for people to print things (documents, business cards, brochures) at home or in their own offices. So it was important for this printing business to explain their differential advantage to prospective clients. While you might think that they would say that they created business cards, brochures, etc. that would make you (their client) look professional and polished, what I heard the wife say was, "We do four color offset printing...." Ugh! She was not speaking the language that her customers -- or prospective customers -- understood.

Like her, I suspect that you are passionate about what you do. No matter if you are digitizing materials, creating metadata, or writing a grant, that work is very important to you. The terms you use are the terms used by the professionals that you work with...and you all understand each other. But that is not the language that others in your larger organization speak or the language that your end-users speak. And when they ask "what's new" and you response if full of jargon and "foreign" terms, you may have said much but - to them - you have said nothing.

Using the language that your internal and external users (or colleagues) speak will help them to understand what you do. If they understand what you do, they will value what you do more.

So here is something for you to try. When someone asks what you do, give them an explanation without using acronyms or terms that you don't hear on the evening news (in other words, you can't use works like digitization, metadata, migration, refresh, digital preservation, finding aid, pathfinder, ILL, etc.). I know, it may not be easy and you may have to stop and think about what words to use. That's okay. Your explanation will be interesting as well as understood. And that smile on the person's face? Yeah...that means that they understood you and really do find your work interesting.

And with all of the holiday parties that are still left, I think you'll have several opportunities to try this.

No comments: