TIUOA – The indiscriminate use of acronyms
People love to use acronyms. I’d like to think it’s because we think so fast that we need to condense our speech to compensate, so we use acronyms to speed things up; But it could be wrong. Acronyms are especially rampant in chat rooms. If you’ve been to one, you know how difficult it is to understand what people are saying if you don’t know acronyms like LOL or BRB.
Fortunately, or unfortunately, as the case may be, the technical professions are full of them. Maybe it’s because they’re easier to use or just quicker to say. Or maybe it’s because they help the person using them to establish their mental superiority. Whatever the reason, our jobs are full of them and they serve their purposes.
But technical acronyms also have a downside. Those on the business side of the ledger don’t always know what they mean. One company I worked for had an incredible collection of acronyms, which employees used freely, too freely. They became so ingrained in the culture of the organization; sometimes they interfered with customer communications, costing the company’s business.
If you are in sales, you have to be careful with acronyms. While they have their advantages, they can cost you money if you’re not careful when and how you use them.
Let’s look at a simple example. A sales engineer giving a presentation explains how a certain protocol works and how the company team works with respect to it. He or she understands these acronyms and uses them in the presentation to speed up communication. That’s great, if the sales engineer is talking to the right people. If not, you may be cutting your throat.
If your audience is made up of business decision makers, they probably don’t know what the acronyms stand for. More importantly, they may not care. Their main concern during the presentation is to find out if your product or service solves their problem, whether they knew they had one or not.
So what happens when you use a strange acronym? They will ask you what it means or will try to figure it out. If you are asked what it means, it may seem smart to tell you, but you have interrupted the presentation. If they decide to crack it, they will stop paying attention while their processors crack “the code.” Either way, it’s not good.
Here is another example. Clients often refrain from asking about an acronym because they feel intimidated or embarrassed. They are not familiar with it, but since they didn’t ask about it and are sitting in the presentation, you automatically assume they know what it means. Communication is blocked. That is not good either.
Then there is the question of ambiguity. If you use an acronym and do not explain its meaning, your audience may not be clear about what you are saying.
Take the acronym “TLA”. It could stand for the three-letter acronym or it could stand for the two-letter acronym. It could also represent other things. Some of my favorites are
o Association of tax liens
o Temporary life allowance
o Local Territorial Authority
o Texas Bar Association
o Tadpole Liberation Army (my personal favorite)
and many more …
OK, I’m exaggerating. These terms may not appear in a technical sales presentation. But I think you get the idea. So how do you handle acronyms if you are doing a technical sales presentation?
These are my tips …
- If you are providing a brochure, create a section for acronyms.
- If you are making a PowerPoint presentation, explain the acronyms when they appear.
- Try to measure the technical knowledge of your audience. (If you think your audience has a high level of technical knowledge, avoid explaining the acronym. You don’t want to be seen as a babysitter explaining TCP / IP to a more advanced audience.)
- If it’s a company-related acronym or represents some obscure industry standard, feel free to explain its meaning when it appears.
- Acronyms are a reality. They are here to stay and we will use them until we start using telepathy to communicate. In the meantime, watch out for acronyms when giving a technical sales presentation. They can cost you.
Now, go sell and remember to keep it light.