Creating a structure that helps both the speaker and the audience to remember speech content is always a key aim for any presentation; hence a frequent use of acronyms.
An acronym can be very useful as a 'short cut' memory aid.
Some of the shorter established ones that many of us are aware of work very well,
like 'SMART' goals or 'SWOT' analysis.
As a technique however it can easily become overused; particularly, it seems, in the world of personal development, where maybe in an effort to set themselves apart, many Speakers seem to feel compelled to come up with their own unique, neat, snappy (usually patented) acronym to highlight each of their own personal keys to success .
There are 2 problems with the over use of acronyms.
There are very few neat acronyms that really work for all the letters in the word,
which can mean we find ourselves having to shoe-horn a term or concept into the letters of a word that does not quite fit our message.
I once learnt a public speaking acronym where a letter 'E' stood for 'Elevate your voice'
(in truth the letter E appeared 3 times in the acronym - which in itself was quite confusing).
The broad meaning was of course clear - 'Elevate your voice' -
ie - 'Project your voice' or 'Speak clearly'
The only thing is, - no one in everyday conversation would ever say 'elevate your voice'.
Similarly when working with young people, we used a feedback acronym which was adapted from the standard 'Toastmaster' structure of
'commend, recommend, commend' -
It was WIN - where:
W stood for say something 'wonderful' about their speech;
I stood for offer a way to 'improve' the speech;
(all fine so far) and
N stood for finish by saying something 'nice'
Most school English teachers curl up at 'nice'; calling it an appallingly bland word,
and following on from an uplifting 'wonderful' and a constructive 'improve',
'nice' is a terrible come-down.
Clearly someone was left struggling to find a word beginning with N to complete the word WIN.
Even the famous 'KISS' analogy, only works beautifully for 3 letters -
'keep it simple' but now we are stuck with finding a term for the second 'S' because 'kis' is not a word!
The acronym 'Keep it simple stupid' originated from somewhere within the America military and civil Aircraft industry and was not supposed to imply that the person being spoken to was stupid.
It was supposed to mean 'Keep it simple stupid' - ie, a slightly awkward way of saying -
'Keep it really, really simple' - rather than 'Keep it simple, stupid!', which of course is a violation of one of the basic tenets of training, as calling your students 'stupid' is unlikely to build an open, mutually respectful 2 way relationship.
The second and the real problem with the overuse of acronyms is this:
An acronym tends to allow the structure to dominate the content.
Good speech structure should support your content.
It should not be a strait jacket dictating how your content fits in with the structure.
Therefore by implication, the overuse of acronyms is sometimes an indirect confession that the content is either too wide ranging or too weakly organised to stand up by itself.
Once a speaker starts basing their success recipe on 'CONSTANTINOPLE':
C is for 'Clear goals'
O is for 'Organisation'
N is for 'Never give up'â€¦etcâ€¦(I think you have a sense of how this would continue), the acronym starts to defeat its own purpose, because it overcomplicates rather than supports the basic message.
If well-constructed, I am a great fan of any acronym, rhyme or rhythm that helps me remember names, contents, dates or any series of facts.
However, like any good tool it should be used wisely and sparingly.
And so the real point is this:
- if you find yourself relying on acronyms to get your material organised, it may reveal that your content lacks the necessary coherent internal structure to sustain itself or its own argument.
Strip away the acronym. Does the content still hold together?
If not, you may find that the acronym is not the foundation of the structure,
it is just a crutch leant too heavily upon to arrange content that is otherwise too weak to sustain itself.