Is your mom still doing TIME? the customer asked my daughter, Caroline, at a local retail store where she was a cashier. Carolines response: Oh, yes, and she loves it.
That invited unexpected sympathy from one of her co-workers who overheard the conversation. After the customer paid and left, the co-worker walked closer to Caroline and said, Caroline, I am so sorry. I didnt know your mom was in prison.
Theresia, my wife, worked as a trainer for child-care providers serving children with learning, mental and/or physical challenges. After the providers were identified and signed up to participate in a training program, Theresia mailed the learning materials and tests in manila envelopes. The name of the program became Training in Manila Envelopes, or TIME. Theresia was doing TIME.
I remembered this story recently when a student, while introducing me to her classmates, said that I was a BBB award recipient. I found out that except for my introducer, no student knew that BBB stands for Better Business Bureau. BBB can also stand for blessed beyond belief.
In my public speaking skills training, I encourage participants to use words their audiences understand and to make efforts to use full names of programs, associations and professional certifications, among others, before using their commonly known acronyms. When people in an audience hear an acronym they are not familiar with, they are not only frustrated, but they may also miss all or some of the information from the speaker thereafter as they try to figure out what was said.
Tons of acronyms are used by myriad organizations. Take PM, for example. For some people that may mean the afternoon, but for others it is Prime Minister. In my profession, CSP (Certified Speaking Professional) is an award earned by members of NSA (National Speakers Association). However, CSP is also the acronym used by a company whose name is Customer Services Profiles LLC. NSA is mostly associated with the National Security Agency.
You wouldnt be surprised to hear a speaker talk about his or her college days using the schools acronym. But when you say UW, do you mean the University of Wyoming, the University of Wisconsin or maybe the University of Washington? When you say UI, do you mean the University of Iowa or the University of Idaho?
When people think of IHOP, many assume it is a restaurant famous for its pancakes International House of Pancakes. For others, IHOP means the International House of Prayers.
Did you know that BS is the abbreviation for bachelor of science?
Humor and unintended embarrassment can be found in acronyms. When Mike Rowe, the host of the Dirty Jobs TV show, came to Boise to speak on education, or ED, he talked of how his mother was surprised that Mike had become the spokesman for ED, erectile dysfunction. ED is also used for executive director. A speaker who uses the acronym ED without clarifying which ED he means risks confusing some members of his audience.
Even the simplest acronym needs clarification. The other day, there was a posting on Facebook where an interviewer asked the interviewee, What qualifications do you have? The response was, I have a Ph.D. The interviewee explained that Ph.D. meant Passed High school with Difficulty.
Dont make it difficult for your audience.
VINCENT MULI KITUKU Author and motivational speaker. Founder of Kituku & Associates.