Using Jargon and Acronyms Can Leave Your Audience in the Dark

Mumbo jumbo concept. Every industry has its own jargon and acronyms. Jargon is a form of slang, or shorthand, that conveys a specific meaning to the insiders who use it.

Jargon common to all industries such as “think outside the box” or a “win-win situation” are well known, although they don’t show much originality when used by someone making a presentation.

But if a speaker used “kill chain” in his talk would you know that it’s a military term describing the process of identifying and destroying a target? The speaker might be discussing how to overcome the competition and kill chain certainly has a nice ring to it, even if his audience doesn’t know what it means.

The use of jargon can leave people in the dark when they don’t know what’s going on. It’s best to minimize the jargon in your talks, because it breaks the flow. Use jargon too often and your audience will tune out.

Avoid These Terms

Jargon should be used sparingly, if at all. Many terms have become clichés, because they are trite and overused. Are you guilty of using any of this jargon when you’re presenting?

  • Let’s get our ducks in a row
  • Pushing the envelope
  • Hammer it out
  • Keep me in the loop
  • Go after the low-hanging fruit
  • The view from 30,000 feet

Jargon concept. If you have, now might be a good time to strike them from your next presentation or business conversation.

Probably no group is guiltier of using jargon than politicians and lobbyists. Most civilians would have no idea what these terms mean: “frankenfood” (genetically modified food products) or “greenwashing” (companies that try to make it seem they’re environmentally friendly but they’re not).

There is an insider’s language for business, government agencies and the military that revolves around not only the use of jargon, but the use of acronyms.

Acronyms Aren’t All Bad

It’s maddening to watch the Sunday morning political talk shows and listen to politicians talk in double speak. There is a veritable alphabet soup of terms they use such as:

  • AHRQ – Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality
  • BCP – Bureau of Consumer Protection
  • CBO – Congressional Budget Office

But can you imagine having to repeat this government agency name every time you mentioned it in a talk?

  • DELTA – Domestic Violence Prevention Enhancement and Leadership Through Alliances Program

Unlike jargon, which is a poor substitute for clear language, acronyms are useful, once you’ve defined them.

Acronyms are meaningless unless you use the entire name first. If you persist in using acronyms without explanation, then you’ve lost your audience.

For example, use The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority the first time you mention it instead of FINRA, its more common acronym. FINRA is the largest independent regulator for all securities firms doing business in the United States. It’s been in the news a lot lately, but you’ll note the media always spells out the full name of the Authority before using the acronym.

When making a proposal to a company that is better known by its initials, it is acceptable to first use the company’s proper name and then use its acronym for the rest of the proposal.

If your presentation is lengthy, then you may want to use the full name occasionally, such as in a slide transitioning to a new section.

Jargon and the use of acronyms have become ubiquitous on social media, but that doesn’t make it acceptable to use shortcuts like LOL (laughing out loud) in a speech or presentation. It isn’t professional.

Please let us know what jargon or acronyms are especially annoying to you.

2 comments to Using Jargon and Acronyms Can Leave Your Audience in the Dark

  • John Marcus

    A blog with many important points. I’d like to add, though, that when presenting to a group with expertise in a certain field or industy, it’s expected for the speaker to use acronyms since the audience does on a daily basis. For examples, marketing people say “CRM,” never “customer-relationship-management software,” manufacturing executives use “JIT” instead of “just-in-time manufacturing,” and financial managers refer to “FIFO” versus “first-in, first-out accounting.” By not using acronyms, a speaker could be viewed as not fully knowledgeable about his or her subject.

  • The same as in writing. We should avoid these jargon and use acronyms appropriately.
    Thanks for sharing.

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