Saturday, July 30, 2011

Memo to speakers: NMA*!

* = No More Acronyms.

From MediaPost:

The 'No Acronym' Rule: Time to Improve Our Communication

By Dave Morgan

"I wish there were laws or medication designed to stop people from assuming everyone knows the meaning of their acronyms." That was Geomentum CEO Sean Finnegan's much-liked Facebook post last week that drew lots of comment. And I could not agree with Sean more.

Many folks think that throwing acronyms around makes them sound smart, sophisticated, tech-savvy and plugged-in. How wrong they are. The assumptive use of acronyms is a bad habit practiced by way too many people in our industry, and most don't seem to be in any hurry to kick it. Well, it's time that we all unite to help them go cold turkey -- and improve the quality and clarity of the communication in our industry at the same time.

At my last two companies, we had a "No Acronym" Rule. Actually, the rule would probably be better titled the "No Unexplained Acronym" Rule. Any time one of our employees used an acronym without immediately explaining exactly what it stood for, he/she would be fined $1 for each and every person in the conversation.

Here are some of the reasons why I believe we all need to adopt that No Acronym Rule in our industry:

Not respectful of audience. The moment a speaker in a talk uses an acronym that is not understood by all in the audience, a barrier is created. Using acronyms without explaining what they mean -- unless the meaning is truly self-evident -- is assumptive, arrogant and can be intimidating. It's an "all about me" practice. To many, it says "I know the code. If you don't, tough." That's not the best way to respect your audience.

Slows pace of commerce. All too often, acronym use in our industry is driven by those most tech-savvy, the early adopters, and wielded against the less savvy, the laggards among us. This only heightens and reinforces the tech gap between the groups and slows the adoption of new technologies by those who move only when they understand things more thoroughly. Why add roadblocks to your journey?

Leads to misunderstandings. If you assume people know what you're saying when you're talking in code, you have to expect a lot of misunderstandings. If people don't know what you mean when you use an unknown acronym, they will fill in their own meanings. Lots of misunderstandings will result.

Lost opportunity to teach. Most of us like to learn new lingo, especially shortcuts to big, complex concepts. But we don't want to seem uninformed, so won't stop to ask for a meaning. It is a good policy to assume in a conversation that the other person DOES NOT understand your acronym, so take the few seconds to explain it. Explaining an acronym to someone you hope to do business with can make you a hero. That will make you seem like a smart teacher, rather than a smart aleck.

Acronyms are good for 140-character tweets and for the military, but they're not good for business.