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To Be a Successful Communicator – Keep it Short

A big secret to being a successful communicator is learning the art of keeping it brief.  In a digital world, we’re being bombarded with messages.  The average employee today gets more than 200 emails a day, and spends 40% of his or her day dealing with email.  TV, radio, social media, and advertising of all kinds are blasting away as well.  This means that most people won’t give you much attention for your email, your talk, or your presentation.  In an easily distracted world, if you want to be a successful communicator, learn to do it in short, easy to understand messages.

Over coffee with your BFF you can ramble all you want to, but when it comes to business or public communication, keep it short.  Perhaps you’re introducing yourself to a group, making a point in a business meeting, or presenting a new idea in a creative session.  Chances are, you could cut it in half and get the point across far more effectively.

But you have to be intentional, and practice.  Here’s a few tips:

1.  Don’t repeat yourself.  This is a huge offender.  A bit tip-off is how often you say “again” in a conversation or speech.  We got it the first time – you don’t need to keep going back to your original point.

2.  Drop the “uh’s,” “aah’s,” “umm’s,” “likes,” and “you know’s.”   Not only does it drive people nuts, but it doubles the length of your message.  This is important people.  Filler words make you look far more ignorant than you think, and believe me, it’s not worth it.

3.   Think about it beforehand.  Don’t depend on your “off the cuff” brilliance.  If I’m in a business meeting and the leader asks us to go around the room and introduce ourselves and say a few words about what we do, I don’t leave it up to spontaneity.  As the others are introducing themselves, I’m making a few quick notes on the napkin, so I can get across the important information in just a few sentences.

Being able to communicate, speak, lecture, or present in a short time is very hard.  Mark Twain was once asked to speak to a group and he asked the host how long he could  speak.  The host wondered why it mattered, and Twain responded that if he had an hour, that would be easy.  But if he only had 5 minutes, it would take a lot of preparation.

Keep it short and powerful, and your listeners will be far more impressed – and I might add – grateful.

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  1. Great advice. I think in terms of bullet points if I call a meeting or need to communicate about specific ideas/info… I stick to it… don’t go on a rabbit trail. Especially if I’m talking to men or “A Type” personalities, they want the bottom line of business with no non-sense in between….

  2. Number 2. When I was selling 7 figure deals to Senior V.P. in the telecom space we required to take presentation classes that were video recorded then played back for the whole class. The one thing the instructor drove home more than any other points was the items in number 2. He said if you use any of those sounds you just communicated to the audience that you are both unprepared and that you probably don’t know your employer’s products your trying to ask an excutive to spend millions of dollars on. 

    I still listen for those phrases and words in any sermon or presentation I watch. As soon as I hear them I less engaged.


  3. Uh, it’s like a really great, um, uh, you know, bit of advice! Communicating in tweet-like bytes would be, I dunno, really like short! I’ll try it tomorrow when my BFF asks whaz’ up. Thanks! Totally

  4. Great information. Two out of the three churches I’ve spoken at in the last month go postal when their pastor goes longer than 30-minutes. The days of 75-minutes sermons are long gone. I’ve love Andy Stanley’s book “Communicating for a Change” and make it a point (no pun intended) to only do one-point messages and build everything around that single point.

  5. Brevity can be very useful in effective communication, but not applicable in every situation of course. I prefer to think of it as keeping the communication compact and focused, removing all the “fat”.

    Pastor Jack Hayford can preach for 45 minutes and keep you on the edge of your seat, while other “teachers” I’ve heard can effectively bore you in five.

    I would never want to be accused of having the great ability to cram the smallest amount of thought into the largest amount of words.

  6. So what of the ever dwindling American attention span?  At some point people have to be also trained to listen.  Not all presenters or speakers are so dynamic that I hang on their every word, but they still carry information that I need.  It’s the job of the speaker to make efficient use of the time.  Listeners also need to have the patience to “hear”.  We want complex messages boiled down to up or down, yes or no.  Also, the emotion or nuances of a message can get lost in the digital world.  Subtle humor or sarcasm gets miscommunicated as literal.  What does everyone do with all of the “spare” time that we accumulate from all of the shorter/faster/better things we have/do?

  7. Phil, I always appreciate your guidance on communication and leadership. Good pointers. I recently contemplated this and wrote that there are “bullet people” and “paragraph” people–we all prefer to listen to bullet people.

  8. This should go without saying, but needs to be said: stick to your point(s). In most venues, avoid the seduction of “rabbit trails.” Also, know who you are communicating to. If you can avoid cultural idioms that don’t apply to your audience, do it!

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