Have you ever been forced to listen to someone drone on and on about something? Sure, maybe the story or ideas grabbed you at first, but it didn’t take you long to get the point and you were ready to move on.
A lot of us struggle with brevity when communicating something important. We reason that details color or contextualize our ideas, and will help people arrive at the same conclusion. However, this logic tends to backfire in most situations.
There was a time when longer dialogue was more acceptable or normal. But that’s changed as evidenced by ever-shrinking attention spans that are more accustomed to tweets and texts. Add to that all the communicating – so many people with so much to say – it’s no wonder we live in a world where brevity is honored.
Words are like calories, people need them to live, but too many can create an in-balanced diet that slows audience engagement and even puts them to sleep.
So, when you find yourself in front of the media, constituents, or colleagues, always prepare short and pointed thoughts and remarks. That will help ensure you not only hold attention but also motivate action.
So how do you boil down a lengthy or complex interview, presentation, or discussion?
Clear Starts and Action-Oriented Finishes
The first few minutes of any engagement, whether it’s a media interview, presentation, or discussion, are always the toughest. Nerves are elevated, pacing, tone, and interest level are not established. There are lots of unknowns and when you go in unprepared most tend to ramble for a short time until a level of comfort is achieved.
However, the worst time to ramble is at the beginning of an engagement because it immediately puts you at a disadvantage and uphill climb to persuasion.
To that end, know exactly what you want to say in the first few minutes frontward and backward. If it’s a media interview, anticipate the top key questions you will be asked and practice your responses. If it’s a presentation, have that first few minutes down pat without notes – including your pacing and voice inflection. And for meetings and discussions, again, know your key points and a concise defense or rationale for them.
In presentations, it may seem intuitive to end with, “In summary…” or “To conclude…” and rehash what you already said in fewer words. But avoid these dull finish lines as they invite the audience to mentally check out. Instead, call them to action with something like, “This is the time. This is the moment we need to change courses and see the potential of…” or “I invite you to test this new model. See if it’s sustainable. See if you agree with me that…”
Speak with Purpose
Practice the art of keeping wishy-washy language out of your remarks – words like kinda, sorta, and maybe, take up space and instill doubt that you really know. They subtly strike at your credibility and, collectively, disable your message.
Also, avoid using filler words like um, uh, ah, like, okay, right, and you know. We all use them to help our brains keep up when we are talking too fast – which is another nervous trait. Better to remove them and slow your pace at certain points to help accentuate and communicate a more thoughtful, concise, and deliberate manner. Pacing helps keep your brain and words aligned.
Less is More
Typically, we don’t need to say as much as we think we do. So, create your presentation as you normally would, then pull out the red pen and cut it by 25%.
Hold your key points to three if possible – the number three is magical because it adds a sense of volume to your content and yet is much more memorable for audiences. Likewise, research has shown that the average attention span for a presentation is roughly 18-20 minutes. If your time slot is longer, you need to plan for breaks or other mid-presentation disrupters to re-engage your audience.
Be stingy with words and how much you share. Leave people wanting more. Shakespeare said it best: “Brevity is the soul of wit.”
Give these tips a try. Practice and refine them to create an engaged audience that retains more information, and is easier to inspire and influence.
PS – Check out the “Funniest Leadership Speech ever” and note that it’s only five minutes!