One of my colleagues used to say “Everything here is a TLA!”  (three letter acronym).  We use acronyms without even thinking.  During presentations I sometimes hear a TLA (or other multi-letter acronym) used that I don’t know, or remember. My favorite is EBITA – earnings before the deduction of interest, tax and amortization expenses (I had to look that up – again).

The presenter assuming that the audience is familiar with the same acronyms they are is a sign of the “curse of knowledge”.  Being afflicted with the “curse” means that once you know something well you cannot go back to the state where you didn’t know it; you may assume that everyone else knows it too. The “curse” can cause an interesting problem; the more you know the worse you may become at communicating that knowledge.  Applying that to the acronym issue – we use a large number of acronyms in our communication every day, but does everyone know them?

How can you successfully use acronyms in your presentation?  You have to know your audience – will everyone know the acronyms you are going to use?  Better yet, assume that everyone will not know or remember the TLAs in your world. Make sure you say the words each time rather than using the acronym, or replace it with a simpler term.  In my EBITA example, I would simply use the term profit; I know it’s not that simple, but it will let the audience know what you are talking about.

So KIS (keep it simple) and avoid using TLAs. You should be able to beat the “curse” … at least as it applies to acronyms.

Do you know any other ways to avoid using acronyms in presentations?

Joe Pops


2 Replies to ““Everything here is a TLA!””

  1. Joe:
    If you can’t avoid using an acronym, then you at least should define it the first time you use it. Some acronyms have multiple meanings, like STD which insurers and human resources think means short term disability, rather than sexually transmitted disease.
    My nominee for worst acronym is ASOL for American Symphony Orchestra League:
    SMERF (Social, Military, Education, Religious, Fraternal) sounds pretty silly too:

  2. Thanks Richard
    I use STD in a sales seminar I do – sales people often have “Show-up and Throw-up Disease” I am sure in all the information we throw at a customer there are a lot of acronyms as well.

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