Creative Leadership

The Power of Being Brief

I’ve written about this before, but until people get the message, I’ll continue to be a crazy prophet in the wilderness. Keep it short – please. I have a friend who can’t send an email less than 300 words. He feels compelled to add the backstory, all the details, the possible alternatives, and more. Even his simplest email drones on and on and on. I met with a producer recently who kept deviating from the pitch. He rambled on about world politics, his high school days, the direction of the industry – all entangled in the project he was trying to produce.

Certainly there are times in life for deep discussions, lengthly reflections, long lectures, and serious conversations. But 90% of the time in your career or calling, you need to get to the point. People are busier than ever and really aren’t interested in chit-chat. You’re not endearing, you’re exasperating. So the next time you have to make a presentation, pitch, or just make a point with your boss, here’s some important things to remember:

1) Have a “log-line” for everything.  A log-line is an old Hollywood term that describes the small space in a TV guide to describe your movie or TV show. One of the classic log-lines is for the movie “Alien,” which is “Jaws in Space.” That’s pretty much everything you need to know about the potential of that movie. Always think in log-lines. If you get more time to talk, fantastic, but always be ready to be brief. Oh, and know your story. The log line for the movie “Titanic” was, “A young man and woman from different social classes fall in love aboard an ill-fated voyage at sea.” Nobody cares about watching a ship sinking for two hours, but millions saw the movie over and over because of the love affair. That’s what captured their imagination.

2) What do you want me to do?  That’s the question the other person is always asking. I often have to interrupt people and ask “So, how can I help?” Especially in an early meeting, I’m not interested in knowing everything, I just want to get to the bottom line and know what you want me to do. Produce the program? Provide funding? Share the project with their networks? Introduce you to people? Whatever it is, make it clear from the top. Don’t take forever to get there.

3) Be knowledgeable about the project.  Don’t pitch a historical movie unless you’re very familiar with the time period. Don’t pitch a virtual-reality project while stumbling around making no sense about the technology. You’re not fooling anyone, and you’re only looking like an idiot. If you don’t know what you’re talking about, why should anyone else invest in the idea? Take the time and become fluent in whatever area you’re discussing.

4) It’s not about the features, it’s about the benefits. That’s an old sales technique worth learning. Stop with all the detail about the minor aspects of the project. What will it do for me? Why do you want me involved? What will it accomplish? You’ll get further with benefits over features any day.

5) Finally, don’t overstay your welcome. Hollywood ministry pioneer Larry Poland used to arrange meetings with studio executives. He’d ask for 10 minutes of their time, and during that first meeting, he’d get up to leave at the 10 minute mark. Even if they wanted him to stay longer, he’d reply, “You were gracious to offer 10 minutes and I want to honor your time.” Trust me – Larry was always asked to return. By contrast, too many people walk into an office and plop down on the couch expecting to stay for the entire afternoon. Always be the one that decides it’s time to leave, because with few exceptions, if the host has to draw the meeting to a close, you’ll never be asked back.

Have I missed anything else that will help our readers make a positive impression online or in meetings?

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  1. Quintus Horatius Flaccus, a.k.a. Horace, 65-8 BC: “Whatever advice you give, be brief.” Not much as changed in two millennia.

  2. Brilliant points. Especially #5. Happens in my organisation all the time. I feel it is a lack of self-awareness in those that tend to “plop on the couch and stay”. So that’d be my bonus tip – practice self-awareness, recognise when you’re rambling and stop, recognise when the others in the room are looking all eyes-glazed over while you’re speaking. 🙂

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