How many acronyms and initialisms do you use on a daily basis? If you take careful stock of your day-to-day speech, you may find you use more of these verbal shortcuts than you realize. Acronyms aren’t inherently bad. They can replace long and awkward phrases to make speech cleaner and more efficient, especially if they need to be used multiple times in an interaction. However, if the person you’re speaking with isn’t familiar with the acronyms you’re using, they can be detrimental to your speech and confuse your listener. Take a look at these three strategies to make sure acronyms are helping and not hurting your communication:
Keep It Clear: When you say an acronym out loud, make sure you pronounce each letter clearly and at a slow pace. Acronyms can be confusing to begin with—if you rush your words and run your sounds together, there’s a very high chance your listener will be confused. Make sure you say each and every sound (particularly at the end of words), and pause between each letter.
Do Your Homework: Before using an acronym out loud, know whether to say each individual letter or to pronounce the abbreviation like a word. For example, NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) is pronounced as a word, while FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation) is pronounced as individual letters. If you’re unsure, ask a trusted colleague or simply check on the internet to see how a given acronym should be said.
Always Define the Term: Unless you are 100% sure that all of your listeners are extremely familiar with an acronym, you should always include the full phrase the first time you use it. When speaking, the acronym typically comes first, followed by the full phrase (e.g., “This number includes VAT, value added tax”). In written communication, the order is reversed; write the full phrase first, followed by a parenthetical abbreviation (e.g., “Here is a list of our key performance indicators (KPI).”) After that initial use, feel free to just use the acronym.
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