Brevity in Business
by Randy Siegel
Improving communication at work requires preparation and thought. Effective communication skills will benefit you in many different situations at work and at home. This article outlines the importance of brevity, one of the important techniques for effective communication, and how to do it.
Business demands brevity and quite often clients retain me for presentation training when what they really want is help organizing their thoughts.
“My boss says that I take too long to get the point.”
“I have trouble articulating what I really mean.”
“I don’t seem to hold my audience’s attention.”
Forbes Magazine estimates most speeches last 40 minutes. Ron Huff in his book Say It in Six says six minutes or shorter is the ideal length for any communication. While it may be impossible to restrict every communication to six minutes, I would agree. Brevity is best.
Brevity often accompanies greatness. Consider:
When Nelson Mandela was released from prison in South Africa, he delivered a stunning speech that marked the end of apartheid. He spoke for five minutes.
It’s been said Winston Churchill’s oratory saved Britain from defeat in World War II. His “Never Give In” speech lasted six minutes and “Blood Sweet and Tears” was even shorter, two and half minutes.
Over one hundred years ago, Susan B. Anthony made one of the strongest speeches ever for woman’s rights, and she did it in less than five minutes.
Huff offers a five-step worksheet to “say it in six.”
- “Let’s get right to the point. There’s a burning issue here that we need to discuss….”
- “Here’s a quick overview – just a bit of background….”
- “This led to an idea….”
- “This idea will more than pay for itself. Here’s the payoff….”
- “Here’s what we need from you to get going….”
Dale Carnegie in his book, Effective Speaking, suggests a similar format:
Example: Offer an incident that illustrates the main idea you wish to convey.
Point: In clear-cut terms, make your point.
Action: Tell the audience what you want them to do.
Benefit: Give them the benefit for doing what you ask.
I recommend clients structure their thoughts by answering these questions:
- What is the one message, mission or theme you want to communicate?
- What are the sub-themes that fall under the central theme (can you limit to three)?
- What examples and/or personal stories bring life to these sub-themes?
- What action do you want your audience to take?
- What is the benefit to them for taking this action?
Brevity is short, but it is not shallow. By structuring your presentations around these five questions, you’ll streamline your communications, stay on point, maintain the audiences’ attention and stimulate them to action.