We all do it – and we end up confusing our friends, family, sometimes our customers, but how many potential clients have we lost because of it?

What am I talking about?  Jargon, acronyms and other words that are specific to our business.  I think we all talk at least two languages – our native tongue and our industry jargon.  There’s nothing wrong with that, but you have to be confident that the people you are talking to speak the same languages!

I once went to work for a huge automotive company and, half-jokingly, I was handed the booklet with all the internal acronyms.  Whilst I got the hang of it after a while there were certainly a few meetings where I had to guess what everyone was talking about in the early days.

When you’re writing it’s easy to forget that everyone doesn’t have the same level of understanding you do.  Even what you think are common short forms may not mean the same thing to everyone.  My cousin announced she was doing CBT and I was a bit surprised to say the least.  CBT is the acronym for Compulsory Basic Training – the one day training that you have to do before you’re allowed out on the street on a motorbike, moped or scooter.  It certainly wasn’t what I expected my cousin to take up.  Then she explained; she was doing a course in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy!

In my early days as a journalist I learned that the rule of thumb is to write whatever it is out in full first followed by the short form in brackets.  So, Institute of Directors (IoD), the first time it’s mentioned and then just IoD thereafter.

I also learned that showing off your vocabulary when writing for the reader is not a good thing.  It means that anyone who doesn’t have your knowledge base is left wondering what you’re talking about.  The KISS technique (Keep it Short and Simple) is a valuable rule of thumb to follow.

When you’re writing about what you do for potential readers remember to stand in their shoes and write at the level of the least knowledgeable – not the most informed.  This means that everyone will understand and those with more knowledge won’t notice the difference!