16 Apr 2020

Stop Using Too Many Acronyms (Nobody Understands You)

Elon Musk famously hates acronyms.

He coined the phrase “Acronyms Seriously Suck,” or ASS.

According to his autobiography by Ashlee Vance (which is a seriously good read, by the way), he lambasts anyone who uses too many acronyms in presentations and insists on them being written out in long form.

I like Elon.

Sure, he has his faults, but he’s arguably done more to save the planet than any Green Party has done.

So, I took the gist of what Elon did at SpaceX and put my own twist on it:

Stop using too many acronyms: You’re confusing your audience and they’re scared to ask

Acronyms are the worst form of consultant speak.

It’s the confusing, technocratic language that alienates anyone who isn’t an SME (sorry, subject matter expert).

You see?!

In the movie Jerry Maguire, high-flying sports agent Tom Cruise charms Renee Zellweger with his grovelling apology, and she then replies, “you had me at hello”.

Fast forward from cheesy 90s movies to today’s business world, and presenters are losing their audience at hello.

Or rather, at the moment they unleash their first confusing acronym without adding a clear explanation of what it stands for.

Nobody likes speaking up in meetings or presentations to ask what something means, for fear of looking stupid. But overuse of acronyms means that otherwise engaged listeners are turned off because they don’t understand something which could so easily be madeEspecially if the person presenting is a more senior member of staff.

So, my little rant for the day is this:

Let’s stop talking like morons just because we’re trying to show off how much we know about a certain topic, and let’s curb our overuse of acronyms.

Speak in plain English

Oh, and speak it at a speed which is comprehensible to non-native speakers.

Trust me, you’ll reach a lot more people with your message.

Don’t be like the former VP of Product Supply in one of my former companies who spoke his northern English dialect at normal speed to a room full of perplexed French, Germans and Italians who were sat there scratching their heads thinking “what is this dude talking about?”

Know your audience and adapt your language to make sure they’re with you on the journey.

It’s not hard.

Avoid using too many acronyms. Speak clearly and lucidly.

It just takes a bit of thought and emotional intelligence.

Rant over.