You’ve probably heard of the KISS principle: Keep it Simple Stupid.  Well, here’s the JISS principle for global meetings success! In today’s post we’ll dig into the “J”, with following “Thursday Thoughts” detailing the rest of the factors.

While I was working in Brazil, my Division VP received a request from the US home office asking for a ballpark figure for the size of a market they were considering for future entry.   For Americans, that’s a clear and concise request: they were asking for a rough estimate, as in don’t spend a lot of time on this.  But stop and think about that. Ballpark figure is a baseball-specific analogy.  They don’t play baseball in Brazil. 

This Brazilian executive was very accustomed to business English, but had no idea what they were looking for.  He came to me to ask for help on what they were saying. Once past the confusion, we had a good laugh about it. Without that explanation, he would have spent an inordinate amount of time generating unnecessarily detailed data.

Jettison the Jargon is your first key to global meetings success. That means avoiding idioms, country- or sport-specific analogies and other colloquialisms.  This is not easy to do. Idioms and sayings are shortcuts to understanding in every language. To further complicate matters, usage and sayings vary within each language across different countries. A very simple example is this blog series’ title “Thursday Thoughts” One name considered and discarded was Thursday Takeaways. How many here are familiar with the British meaning of takeaway? It is take out food. Not an earthshaking problem, but better to avoid potential for any misread.

It’s a challenge to avoid jargon yourself. It’s a bigger challenge in group discussion and interchange. Even with the best of intentions, it takes a while for a group to catch on.  A fun way to work with this is to ask the group to self-monitor and point out use of a colloquialism as it happens,  maybe even having a contribution box or a score sheet  when they catch each other ‘violating the rule’ (group decision on how to spend what is collected, something fun for all). This also helps make it okay for participants to ask for an explanation right at the moment.

The Exception: It can be productive to use a colloquialism or jargon and stop to explain it if the phrase is commonly used in the group’s industry or market. This can improve company communications longer term. There is an added benefit to the ‘stop and explain’ approach – it breaks up meeting intensity and can be fun for all. Try having the home country people explain the origin – that can be tougher to do than you might guess.

Here’s an example I encountered when working with a nine-country group of managers from a nutritional products company. In discussions, various American participants referred to ‘picky eaters’ relative to why parents seek a complete nutrition solution for kids. One of the Asian participants – who spoke really good English – came to me on a break and asked me what that meant. She had looked up the word ‘picky’ in her multilingual dictionary and couldn’t find anything that made sense.  Hmm… how do you explain picky eater? I got her permission to bring this up with the full group and then we all had fun attempting to explain.

With these simple guidelines you can also handle the jargon challenge, and have fun along the way.

The next three posts will drill down on the I, S and S tools, completing the JISS principle for global meetings success.

Dorothy Erlanger is a meeting facilitator, speaker and trainer who has worked with Fortune 100 companies in over 25 countries across the globe. She is fluent in Spanish and Portuguese. For facilitation of global strategic planning, executive workshops or emcee for multi-country conferences, contact Dorothy at 1-804-749-4100;  email or call 804-749-4100.