Make it Easy: Be Careful with Acronyms and Jargon

three co-works use effective communication during a meeting

A crucial but often neglected part of successful business communication is making it easy for your audience to understand what you are communicating. The use of jargon or acronyms with no explanation is a frequent error that really works against the idea of making it easy. Too often, we assume people will understand us because they work at our company or in our industry, but that assumption can lead to unintended outcomes such as confusion and frustration. Let’s look at what you can do to make it easy for your listeners to understand you. 

Anticipate possible confusion during preparation 

  • As you’re preparing, be deliberate in identifying where your terminology comes from and what you can realistically expect people to know. This is a part of your audience analysis process, which should guide you throughout your preparation. 
  • If a term has a legal or regulatory definition that’s far more specific than its common dictionary definition, you may need to spend some time on it. For example, what constitutes “property” in a copyright conversation may require a slide of its own and a thorough explanation of the details. 
  • Plan to spell out even the most obvious acronym the first time. What I mean is something like this: “We can expect a good return on investment, or ROI, over time when we switch suppliers.” After that, you can just say ROI when you need to. But use your judgment here.  
  • When it comes to jargon, plan to define specific terms at least the first time you use them. And remember, context is important. “Black box” means one thing in a theater context, another in an algorithm context, and yet another in an aviation context. When you first use the term, a quick, simple definition usually works: “We’ll be holding the benefit in the Arts Center’s black box theater, which is just a big room with seats and platforms that can be rearranged to suit different purposes.” Then you can move on.  

Be on the lookout for confusion during delivery 

  • During the delivery of your presentation or while conducting your meeting, eye contact and pausing will help both you and your audience prevent confusion. 
  • Connecting with people through eye contact helps you notice when they look confused or disengaged. When this happens, you can pause for a moment to ask if there are any questions. In a meeting where you’re using a lot of potentially unfamiliar terminology, you can say something like, “I know I’m throwing a lot of new terms your way. I want to be sure everyone is with me before we move on. What questions do you have? What can I clarify?” 
  • Pausing not only gives you a moment to assess your listeners but also gives those listeners a chance to cut in with requests for clarification without the discomfort of feeling like they’re interrupting you. 
  • If you are introducing a lot of new terms or acronyms, you might even make a glossary page to hand out so listeners have a reference during the meeting and after it.  

The idea of “making it easy” in business communication has a lot of facets, some of which are pretty complex. However, ensuring that you’re clear in your use of terminology and acronyms is one of the simpler ideas to execute. By defining your terms and spelling out your acronyms clearly, you are increasing the likelihood that you’ll get the outcomes you want: making the sale, getting the okay for a new initiative, delivering information clearly, or simply raising your profile among your colleagues.  

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