• United States
by Edward Horrell

From geek-speak to execu-speak

May 12, 20033 mins

I am a strategic telecom consultant, meaning I am usually hired by senior management to manage and direct projects. I work with IT departments a lot and frequently sit in on IT presentations to senior management.

I have seen “the look” often.

The look comes from nontechnical senior management when geek-speak and three-letter acronyms start flying. It’s a glazed type of look, similar to a deer staring into headlights.

Our industry seems to have acronyms for everything. Those of us who are on the technical side of things incorporate these acronyms into our everyday speech. This is OK when talking to our peers, but it can be disastrous outside our departments. Let me give you a couple of examples.

I work closely with the executives of a technology company in the South. The CTO of the firm is called on often to give reports to senior officials. He is sharp, personable and does his job well. However, he uses geek-speak during his presentations, assuming everyone understands what he is saying. Meanwhile, the look is flying around the room.

This man was recently passed over for a promotion to an executive position for which he was well-qualified. The reason given by the other senior executives: “We don’t understand half of what he says!”

Then there’s Ken Glass. He had been a member of an outside accounting firm used by First Tennessee Bank. A complete shakeup of what was then called the “data processing function” led to Ken being named head of bank operations, which was primarily data processing. He had programmers, analysts, techies, system designers, data processing officers, telecom officers (me) and other technocrats reporting to him.

The acronyms flew around like dirty words at a rap concert. But Ken would pause and say, “Would you explain that to me?” He didn’t sound dumb or uninformed at all; he was simply getting a grasp on things so he could explain them to other executives. After I was hired at the bank, I was asked to give a report to the president about what my new department would be doing. I got the look, and Ken helped by showing me how to use phrases such as “impact on earnings per share” with executives. He’s now president of that First Tennessee Bank.

Here are a few tips on avoiding the look and converting geek-speak into execu-speak:

  • Forget the acronyms; explain things in plain English.

  • Don’t assume everyone knows what you’re talking about. In a non-condescending tone, ask what the level of knowledge is about the subject at hand.

  • Encourage questions, and answer them.

  • Draw simple pictures and speak of benefits to the company as a whole, not your department or “the technology.”

  • Speak often of effects on profits.

By following these steps, you’ll soon see those looks of confusion turn quickly into looks of comprehension.

Horrell is a telecom speaker, author and consultant in Memphis, Tenn. He can be reached at or via his Web site,