I was listening to an interview of writer and photographer Teju Cole by award winning broadcaster and journalist Krista Tippett, when I heard something that really captured my thoughts on the Power of Brevity. Cole mentioned that when the Nobel Prize was given to Swedish Poet Tomas Tranströmer, people hearing about him for the first time asked how his collected works of only some 250 odd pages could be worth the Nobel Prize. Cole said what they were missing was the fact that each of these pages was a searing of the consciousness that was only achieved at by great struggle that could best be compared to the great Japanese poets of haiku, like Kobayashi or Basho. Simply put, every word carries so much more than one word. As Mark Twain opined, “If I had more time, I would’ve made this shorter.”
How many times have you been in a conversation or presentation where the person speaking is providing way too much information? While you politely pretend to pay attention, you've checked out and are looking for a way to exit. Messages don't have to be long to be effective. Answers don't have to be verbose to be complete. The problem is that we've not organized our thoughts sufficiently about what we are going to say before we open our mouth. As a result, we just start talking and keep talking until we are sure that we've provided enough information, or we are out of things to say.
To be effective, you've got to be able to do two things at the same time. The first is to pause and organize your thoughts. The second is to be in tune with your listener's eyes and body language to know when you've said enough. Fail to do either of these things and you will surely miss the mark. The reason is that the audience is the only reason that you are talking. Your comments should be focused on their ears and not on what you want to or feel comfortable saying. Talk only about the intersection of what's important to you and the audience.
Brevity is powerful. It allows for your message to be clear, concise and straight forward. Either you know what you are talking about or you don't. When coaching clients that are practicing being interviewed, it's critical that their core message is ten words or less. If you can't state your message in ten words, it's a bad message. This sounds easy but it takes some thought to be concise. While media is a very different communication animal, conversations or presentations still require you to deliver a clean message that is easily understood. If you are presenting on a conference call or virtual platform you must be more succinct and clearer as well. Rambling is not allowed. The key is to think before you speak, take your time, and be very thoughtful that each sentence you say has value.
Remember that the wise man or old sage in any movie you've ever seen is a person of very few words. The words that they do utter are powerful! The con-man character is always talking. You choose.