Using notes when presenting – best practice
How do you handle a Question and Answer session?
Acronyms are everywhere and they can be really useful for us as communicators but if we use them incorrectly they can stop us achieving our speaking goals too.
In this blog article, we answer the question: 'How do you use acronyms in presentations?'. We take a quick look at what acronyms are, how to use them to improve your communication as a presenter, as well as what to avoid doing with acronyms in your next presentation.
What is an acronym?
An acronym is a shortened version of a word or phrase that is usually formed from the first letters of the words within the phrase.
There are many day-to-day acronyms that you may be familiar with:
BBC - British Broadcasting Corporation
POTUS - President of the United States
RADAR - Radio Detection and Ranging
What makes a good acronym?
The most memorable acronyms are around five letters long. Five letters (and then extrapolating out from them) is an ideal length for storage within our short and then long term memory. Any longer and the mental effort required to remember and translate the acronym becomes challenging for our audience and slows down our communication.
The best acronyms also read as words in their own right, for example ‘RADAR’. Acronyms that read as words are easier for us to learn and recall as they follow familiar patterns, rather than simply being a string of apparently random letters (such as ITYFRE!).
Finally, great acronyms are useful and relevant. There is little point developing an acronym for a phrase that is rarely used. The mental effort required to recall the acronym on the few occasions that it is required will be greater than simply remembering the original phrase itself!
Our most familiar acronyms have spread, and are useful, because they are frequently used and repeated across our communications.
When are acronyms useful?
Acronyms are most useful when they speed up our communications.
To speed up our communications, our audience must be aware of, and know, what the acronyms stands for.
Using acronyms not only speeds up our communication, but can create a sense of belonging or community amongst an audience and a connection between the speaker and the audience. They are bonded by their shared knowledge and understanding of what the acronym means.
It is for this reason that subcultures often develop their own slang, terms and acronyms. This unique language helps to form their identity.
When are acronyms not useful?
Acronyms are not useful when they are not recognised or known by the audience. If this occurs, then our communication is often slowed down as the audience spends a disproportionate amount of time translating the acronyms within the speech or presentation. (That is if they can successfully translate the acronym at all!)
What is the worst example of acronyms?
The example below has often been quoted across the Internet and is claimed to have been published by a US governmental agency to a public audience.
This use of acronyms is useful if speaking to a technical audience that understands them, but to us in the public domain, it is pretty unintelligible!
''In the US, the notion of an NWO became popular after the terrorist attacks on the WTC. However, officials in NATO and the WTO rarely refer to an NWO in proceedings relating to the GATT, and it can be said that the MVTO, the MFN clause, and SROs have little to do with an NWO.''
How should I use acronyms in my next presentation?
- Always check through your presentation for any acronyms or technical terms that you think your audience may not understand.
- Be prepared to define the acronyms or terms within your presentation, so that your audience can successfully follow your message.
- If you are unsure if your audience will understand the terms or acronyms that you are using within your presentation, then ask them. This will give you a good idea of how you should amend your language and use of acronyms.
- Always speak in a language and using acronyms that the least informed person in the room can understand.
Good luck, and if you want to learn more about presenting technical concepts clearly, concisely and confidently, then check out our selection of public speaking training courses here.
Watch more thoughts on acronyms from Rich
As well as reading the article below, you can also watch this blog post narrated by Rich Watts, public speaking expert and 2x national public speaking champion, all about the good, the bad and the ugly of acronyms.
To watch all our public speaking tips videos, visit the Rich Public Speaking Instagram channel here