Watch your language! Promoting clear communication at #CochraneForAll

How can we promote good communication at the Cochrane Colloquium, #CochraneForAll, which starts on Sunday? Sarah Chapman reflects on some things speakers can do to help. 

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So here we are, just three days away from the start of Cochrane’s first ‘Patients Included’ event, our annual global conference (or Colloquium, as Cochrane calls it). You may have read other blogs here, including this one, about what ‘Patients Included’ means and what we’re doing to make #CochraneForAll an event for all, planned and delivered with patients and other healthcare consumers. Soon it will be time to see just how that is working out in practice, and as we make final preparations, here are some final reflections on some of the adjustments that can be made to improve communication and help everyone follow what is being said.

Helping us to hear and understand

Just last week I came across some notes I’d made after an event, reflecting on my frustrations with not being able to hear much during a series of presentations. I had noticed that the ‘work’ of trying to hear was a huge distraction from the work I was supposed to be doing and reduced my capacity to process information. I need to get better at managing that, but the easier it is for me to hear the more focused and productive I’m likely to be. Many people at the Colloquium will be working hard to hear, not to mention to understand and process what they’re hearing. Let’s see what we can all do to be helpful.

Ways that speakers can help


  • Give visual aids e.g. clear slides with key information, and links to relevant papers
  • Speak slowly and clearly
  • Use a microphone where one is provided
  • Keep your face turned towards the audience


  • Pace up and down
  • Use lots of acronymns and jargon

Plain speaking

I’ve come at this as someone with hearing loss, but this little list will be relevant to others, for other reasons. Two patient representatives offered me their thoughts on what might be important to help make the conference inclusive and accessible.

“I always find language around acronyms very difficult – organisations that speakers may be very familiar with or names of leaders in fields or key drug names that they shorten or say very quickly, not always with awareness that others might not have that degree of familiarity makes it very hard to follow! Particularly when acronyms are spoken rather than spelled out eg BMJ is spoken letter by letter but PCORI and UNICEF for example is spoken like a ‘word’ (if that makes sense!) – something I’ve always found confusing when listening to speakers and trying to really follow and note what they are saying!” (Anonymous).

This was echoed by Peter Smart, another patient representative:

“The Colloquium will have delegates from round the globe. English will be the language of the colloquium. But not everyone will be as fluent, in speaking and listening, as those for whom English is their first, or working, language. We shall all have to allow for different accents, intonations and speed of understanding what is being presented.

As a former professor in a UK business school, I regularly missed my coffee breaks, when asked by international students to explain what to me were everyday words and phrases, but had no direct equivalent in their own language.

There will also be #PatientsIncluded and consumer representatives in attendance. Even if they are native English speakers, they may not have a wide vocabulary in medical and research terminology. For example, it took me long enough to work out the difference between ‘morbidity’ and ‘mortality’!

So, please speak relatively slowly, and as far as possible avoid jargon and acronyms, except where they are absolutely necessary to underline what is being presented. Without dumbing down your presentation, please try to use clear acceptable everyday language.”

Bring on the #JargonBin

Using technical terms is inevitable, but we are making a plea for those using them to give a plain language explanation, and we’re also inviting everyone to call out jargon on Twitter, using the #JargonBin and #CochraneForAll hashtags. One of our ‘Beyond the Room’ team will gather them up and tweet out clear explanations.

Digital instruction card which reads: "Tweet using #JargonBin and #CochraneForAll to highlight any jargon, so we can provide a clear explanation and ensure greater understanding for all"

Whether virtually or in person, we hope to see you there!

#CochraneForAll takes place in Edinburgh from 16 – 18 September 2018. Join in the conversation on Twitter with @CochraneUK @SarahChapman30 and many, many others, including the #BeyondTheRoom team.

Watch your language! Promoting clear communication at #CochraneForAll by Sarah Chapman

is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives 4.0 International

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