Brevity Rules


I contemplated making the title the entirety of the post.

Pay attention to how people communicate over the next two days, especially how they speak and what they produce for print media. How often do people spend a lot of their time “clearing their throat” before getting to the meat of what they want to discuss? How often after the main point is made do people repeat pretty much the same thing, as if this will somehow reinforce it?

I have theories.

One is that people think more is better. It’s not. Better is better. Less can be far better than more. Putting less fluff, clutter, and repetition in your communication, whether in print or verbal, allows people to better isolate and consume the main point you’d like to make.

On paper, a great way to accomplish this is to hit them straight between the eyes right after the title. Sure, you can use a little bit of introductory material to explain the circumstances as they stand today, usually the “problem” to be solved. But then, go right to the shortest, most succinct, easiest to digest version of what you have to say. If you want things to change, say, “Things have to change. Here’s how.” Make the point so stand-alone that people can’t avoid seeing it, feeling it, and absorbing it. Thereafter, you can build on the point, explain it out a little more, give it flesh and dimensions.

When speaking, consider the mental, emotional, and stress states of the person or people about to receive your message. If you want to tell your team that you’ve decided to take a job elsewhere, but they’re still talking about the coffee pot exploding early that morning, you might start with something that cues them to the eventual impact of your statement. “I have some important news.” It’s brief, not dramatic, and it sets the mental so that the team pays attention. Then, you can say, “I’ve decided to move on to a new role at a different company, effective three weeks from yesterday.” That’s a very succinct message, and it gives people a chance to think about all you’ve said. Note that I didn’t go into the reasons. Give them time to consider first.


And on presentations (which seem to be on my mind lately), brief rules the day. Use words on slides as if they cost you personally $3000 a word. Make the words powerful icons of the meaning underneath them. If you’re selling the best lawn mower in the world, slap up a huge colorful picture of that baby and put the words: “It cuts better.” I swear to *.deity that you will get a powerful response from fewer words. Put up a novel on every slide, and people will check their Blackberry so much that you worry about their necks.

Now that I’ve chewed up hundreds of words telling you to be brief, let me close by saying that the recipients of your message will appreciate it greatly. Further, it might even help shift the culture a bit to adopt your amazing new brief style. Try it.

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