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You’ve seen them. We all have. You’ve listened to presentations full of jargon-packed paragraphs with acronyms peppered in for flavor. But where is the line between “we’re using this jargon to show we know what we’re talking about” and “we’re cutting-edge disruptors committed to digital transformation”? Because make no mistake, there is a line.

The channel landscape is packed with jargon and acronyms: There’s PRM, CMM, TCMA, MDF, LMS, SFA, CRM, CPQ and a whole lot more! I hear the good side of that line when Zift’s Leadership Team shares insights in their areas of expertise and even ECM (Enterprise Channel Management). They use terminology as a stepping stone to help listeners relate what they’re saying to the words people are used to hearing. After all, it can be comforting to hear and understand a level of jargon — “Ah,” you think. “Yes, I know those terms. I know what you mean when you use that acronym. I’m a part of this community. In fact, maybe I’m something of a subject matter expert, myself!” And we all love a sense of belonging tied to a little self-congratulation, from time to time. But let’s not get carried away.

Consider this blog post an etiquette lesson on the proper usage of jargon. Because we’re not arguing for complete erasure of it. As we’ve hinted, there is a time and place to use acronyms and jargon.

 

Jargon: The Dos and Don’ts

Sprinkle it in presentations. It’s ok to use jargon, to a limited extent, in presentations. Whether it’s just a stand-up with the team or a presentation at a huge conference, it’s ok to use some jargon in these settings.  Acronyms and insider industry terms can work as bridges between your knowledge and the listener’s own well of knowledge. Jargon is cliched for a reason. It works to establish an easily-understood concept that would take a lot more words to describe otherwise.

Be sparing in content. There’s a little more leeway in sales pitches and places where acronyms make sense to differentiate between different solutions. But in content like blog posts and eBooks, jargon can be a little jarring. It’s ok to use terminology from time to time, but question whether it makes sense — or if it’s just a placeholder for a more accurate if less well-known term.

Know your audience. What will be completely acceptable in one room will induce eye-rolling in another. Make sure your jargon usage engenders trust in the audience and uplifts them, as mentioned above. If everyone in the room is feeling like a subject matter expert, you’re doing it right. Another tip: Define your acronyms. You don’t want people walking out of the room wondering what in the world you were talking about!

Don’t use tricksy jargon. As Ann Handley puts it, “speak, don’t spin.” If you’re using jargon to downplay or oversell aspects of your product or solution, rethink that spin. It’s ok to smooth away some rough edges, but an outright spin can leave your audience with whiplash.

 

If you only take away one sentence from this post, let it be this: jargon can make you a great equalizer, or a person saying a whole lot of nothing. It’s up to you to walk that line, but we hope this etiquette lesson helped. Leave a comment explaining your own opinion on jargon or even a few of your favorite (or most hated acronyms) — we’d love to hear!