I don’t think anyone who’s a consultant thinks of themselves as dumb. As a matter of fact, though one doesn’t have to be Mensa genius to be a consultant, it takes a certain amount of skill, chutzpah and nerve to be one, especially an independent consultant.

business speech
doesn't need
30 seconds

With that said, I have to own up to many moments of confusion when I’m around other consultants and, in some cases, people who work in certain industries. My confusion comes from not knowing what the heck they do because I don't understand what they're talking about.

One of the common complaints about the health care industry is the amount of jargon that, as I find out later on, many people use and have no idea what any of it means. When I was a director, I found out one day that a standard I held the people to that worked under me meant nothing to them except as a term; they had no idea why it was important and why it was a standard. After I became a consultant and traveled for work, I learned that even the simplest terms I was using confused people because they didn't use the same terms everywhere.

If that happens within one’s industry, imagine the confusion that comes when someone uses terms they know on someone not in their realm of business. Saying it pretty much stops conversation would be stating the obvious.

I’m one of the few people I know who will ask someone who’s just uttered some ethereal statement that’s made my eyes glaze over to explain what it is they do again. If they say the same thing I’ll ask again until they get sick of me, get frustrated and walk away muttering to themselves.

I'm kidding, that rarely happens. Instead, it gets to a point where I’ll ask them to give me a specific example of what they do. Usually as they start explaining it I get an understanding of what they do. However, sometimes it takes 5 minutes, and once it literally took a 30 minute story to get me to understand it, which I was able to withstand because I had a large glass of soda that kept me entertained long enough.

I get it; we shouldn’t expect everyone who’s not in our industry to know everything it is we do via a 30-second speech. Yet, isn’t that the goal? Isn’t the idea of networking to communicate in a relatively short time what you can do, in case they could use your services or know of someone who could?

To use myself as an example (since I’m writing this post it works well), when talking about health care I say that I help hospitals increase their revenue and cash. That’s pretty much it. Who can’t understand that? They don’t need to know how I do it unless they ask, and most of the time people don’t care...

That is, unless they’re in my industry. If they’re in my industry I’ll add “For instance, I helped one hospital increase their revenue more than 100% in one year, which was an increase of $730 million.” That usually opens eyes.

The important part to learn is that in a very short period of time I’ve told someone what I do in a way that they understand, even if they don't ask any further questions. I did it in less than 30 seconds; not quite an elevator speech but it gets the job done. Who doesn’t understand increasing revenue and cash, no matter what business they’re in?

This is also a problem with a lot of LinkedIn profile pages I see. Most of the people there use terminology that's meaningless, even in my industry. For instance, what is anyone talking about that calls themselves a "project manager"? In health care, project managers could literally be doing anything; the same goes for leadership.

I think most consultants do ourselves in by trying to sound way smarter than we need to. Talk of things like “systems”, “paradigms”, “processes”... these words mean little to most people. They certainly don’t advance us as consultants if no one knows what we’re saying.

Simplicity; what a concept! Anyone disagree with me on this one?