Our culture has gone from long narrative to short phrases in the twinkling of the communication eye. In the 1800s, people listened to political candidates debate for hours on end, bringing picnics and spending the day as a family outing. Today, communicators are feted for their pithy comments of fewer than 140 characters.
Political orators now speak in sound bites. Public relations tells us that listeners can only retain three key points. Our elevator speeches need to be a few sentences at most to connect with our listeners while they are a captive audience.
Is brevity a good thing?
A popular aphorism is that you don’t know a subject until you can teach it. The basis of this philosophy is that trying to explain a topic to someone requires such a thorough understanding of the subject matter that a person can then summarize it in the language of the audience. Have you ever tried to explain something that you didn’t have a good grasp of and rambled on and on in your stream-of-conscious chatter, looking for the salient points?
Today, in our ever-crowded communication world, there are estimates that each of us receive 3,000 advertising messages per day. And then there’s email, Facebook, Twitter, and on and on with incoming messages. If we aren’t concise and focused, it’s likely that our intended audiences will skip our communication (either business or personal) for the messages that are brief and to the point.
Harvard Business Review had an article a couple years ago admonishing companies that if they couldn’t articulate their business strategy in 35 words or less, that they really didn’t understand their businesses. Last week, I read another HBR article that indicated that the essence of a business should be condensed to one sentence. Later in the week, I read about a venture capital group that insisted on companies distilling their point-of-difference to a single word! Now that’s the epitome of self-knowledge, focus and being concise. To get to that level, company management has to be aligned, focused on the customer, introspective and honest.
Abraham Lincoln’s most famous speech wasn’t an hours-long monologue, but the Gettysburg Address, which was only two minutes in length. Today, to capture an audience’s attention and show that I understand that famous speech, I might rewrite and condense it to 105 characters (allowing for RTs and a shortened URL link to the full text, of course) to read:
87 years ago our forefathers created a nation based on liberty & the idea that all men are created equal. http://xxxx
Did I capture the essence?