Are You Speaking English or Alphabet?

A good friend sent me an email about a possible speaking engagement. I contacted the meeting planner to tell her about my background and talk about what I could provide her organization as a speaker. I received a text message saying, "Hi Diane. Thanks for reaching out. I am on PTO but will write to you when I get back." PTO? What the heck does that mean? I was thinking... part time? But I couldn't figure out what the O stood for. So I emailed my friend to ask her the meaning of PTO. She shot back an email saying, "No clue." My friend is at least 10 years younger than I am, so I thought she would know. I've been in business for 20 years and worked in corporations prior to starting my business. So I'm not unfamiliar with some of the terminology. But this really threw me.

I asked my assistant when she came in today, and she knew the answer right away. She recalled first hearing the term in 1997 when she worked for a law firm. Why didn't I know this? Is it because I'm in my own business? My clientele are corporations.

This made me realize the importance of clear communication. I tell my clients and my audiences to never assume and to avoid jargon, acronyms and buzzwords, even if they're speaking to an internal audience or within their industry. Always define the acronym or term, and then you can use the abbreviation. Surely there will be people in the audience who don't know what it means and will be afraid to ask.

The world of technology has influenced the way we communicate. Texting and social media have overridden traditional grammar and spelling rules. While abbreviations serve technology, they can create communication breakdown. This is especially true with spoken communication because you can't go back and re-read the sentence for context. When presenting or communicating one-on-one with someone for the first time, avoid using acronyms and abbreviations.

For those of you who are like me, who may not be up to date on some of the latest alphabet soup terminology, here are some terms to avoid using in your presentation:


  • PTO - Paid Time Off
  • ITO - In The Office
  • WFH/WAH - Work From/At Home
  • LOA - Leave of Absence
  • IIRC - If I recall correctly
  • FWIW - For what it's worth
  • BTW - By the way
  • LMK - Let me know.
  • OOO/OOTO - Out of (the) Office
  • AR - Action required/requested
  • AI - Action Item

What are your favorites? Share them in the comments - and don't forget to let us know what they mean!