Museum Buzzword Balderdash

Board game aficionados will be familiar with Balderdash. In the game originally published in 1984, players create fictitious definitions of real words and attempt to convince others that their definition is the real deal. The game has sold over 15 million copies worldwide since hitting the market but has even older roots in a classic parlor game called Fictionary, which boasts nearly identical gameplay.

We also love playing parlor games on tours too! Our favorite is Tableau Vivant.

Buzzwords also derive from already existing words or phrases that are used in a new context or industry, often evolving into a much different meaning co-opted for a new, fashionable use. The museum landscape is no different, often falling victim to the overuse of hot new phrases, which can sometimes make conversations feel like they’re peppered with words from a foreign language.

We’ve written about looking beyond the buzzword and why jargon might be holding your museum back, but — obviously —industry buzzwords are still, well, all the buzz. And we’re not immune from this problem. We often find ourselves falling into the same trap, yearning for snappy new phrases to express old ideas.

So we decided to play a round of our favorite parlor game and create Museum Buzzword Balderdash. Can you separate the phrases and buzzwords we literally just made up from the ones we’ve actually heard and/or used this year?

On Visitor Surveys:

A. Audience Impact Request (AIR)
B. Immersive Listening to Current and Hoped for Customers
C. Hive-Mind HIVES (Highly Informative Visitor Engagement Surveys)

On Audience Engagement:
A. Highly Engaged Levels of Learning (HELL)
B. Practicing High Levels of Noticing
C. Active Participation in the Creation of the Meaning of their Experience

On Social Media:
A. Intimate Relevance Learning (IRL)
B. Multi-channel Engagement
C. Experiential Marketing

On Making Guests Feel Like VIPs:

A. The Illusion of Exclusivity
B. Highlighted Influencer
C. Fostering Intimate Groups of Fully Engaged Members (FIGFEM)

On Millennials:
A. Young Urban Creatives (“Yuccies”)
B. Baby Doomers
C. Self-Evaluated Learners Fostering Intimate Experiences (SELFIE)


Did you guess right? The answers are at the bottom of this post.

Though some buzzwords actually do prove useful and exhibit tremendous staying power, it’s important to remember that buzzwords — and all words in fact — are made up. How do you then make your words have meaning?

It may sound cheesy but it’s all in how you use them! Throwing your authenticity and voice behind buzzwords will help them be useful for your museum. So say what you mean, and mean what you say. Your colleagues and visitors will thank you.

Answer Key: B, B, C, A, A


This article first appeared on on January 23, 2018


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