This morning a man in a hard hat was roaming around our neighborhood paying particular attention to the telephone poles. I asked him what they were doing with the telephone poles. “We have been inspecting and protecting the power poles from damage from rot, insects, and things like that,” he said. What the poles are called was an important enough distinction that he corrected my choice of words. The poles dotting the road are not telephone poles, they are not owned by the telephone company, they are power poles owned by the power company.
There is nothing that makes a person or organization seem like an outsider faster than using the wrong words. Every industry and profession has its language. Over time the industry and profession insiders develop a repertoire of words, phrases, and acronyms that perfectly describes everything related to the work we do. The moment someone uses a wrong word we know they are an uninformed outsider.
Associations use the wrong words all the time, and this makes sense because we are outsiders. We are association professionals, and we know the association industry’s vernacular. However, our members do not expect us to be outsiders; they expect us to be insiders.
Here’s how to become an insider and learn the language of your members:
- Attend as many of the sessions at the association’s conference and other events as you can. Listen carefully to the issues discussed, the words used, and the questions asked.
- Talk to members at all stages of their careers to find out what their biggest challenges are. Record the way they describe the problems, the barriers they face, and how they feel about these challenges.
- Expand your member network beyond the board. Industry terminology can change fast. Your board members might be in the know, or they might be using antiquated language. Learn more by talking with other industry experts.
- Buddy up to the members who are innovators in the profession or industry. They will know what the current issues are and the experiments they are using to solve those issues along with the language used to describe these new trends.
Learn and use the language of your association’s profession or industry so members will know you are an insider.