Be Brief

By Scott Westerman
Sometimes I get on a roll. As I research these Monday missives I admit to occasions when I have so much I want to share that the normal pre-caffeinated attention spans in our mornings together don’t quite have the stamina to keep up.

Such was the feedback I heard from a beloved colleague this past week about my recent piece on energy suckers. So this week I’ll tackle brevity.

I had the good fortune to be on the same platform with a number of politicians during my executive years. I had the honor of introducing our then mayor and realized that I knew very little about him. I grabbed his shoulder just before showtime and asked how he’d like to be introduced.

“There’s no such thing as a bad short speech,” he said. “Or a good long speech.”

That was the extent of the background he shared with me. So I marched up to the microphone and said, “Ladies and Gentlemen, Mayor Richard Austin!”

And so it goes with much of our business and personal communications these days.

All problems on TV resolve themselves in less then 58 minutes. You’re lucky to get a 25 second sound byte on the local news. And cell phones and Twitter have further sensitized us to getting our message across in 140 characters or less.

The reality is that the biggest challenges defy the oversimplification that our 24 hour news cycle and micro-attention spans require.

That being said, there’s a lot we can do to “get to the point”.

If you’re writing an email, be aware that most people scan their inboxes by way of the message pane in Outlook. If you can’t get your point across in the paragraph that’s visible there, it’s highly unlikely that your reader will scroll down to see what’s “below the fold”.

Same goes for voice mail. My cable co-workers used to say that “Scott gives you 15 seconds to get his attention, then he deletes your voice mail.”

Sad but true. I remember a call center manager saving an important action item until the last part of her phone message. I never got that far.

When you present to a client or co-worker, think of that same mind set. We love executive summaries that give us the key nuggets to chew on. And we feel the Ambien kicking in when the deck has 20 or more pages in it.

I used to require an overly PowerPoint verbose VP to put everything he wanted to tell me on no more than two slides. He did… But he also a ten page appendix with graphs and charts to amplify his points.

“I’d like to give you a quick overview of what’s in front of us today and will then share two things we’ll do to move the needle.”

Those intros are music to my ears.

So as you think about that presentation, that speech, that interaction, remember the seven magic words:

“Be brief, be brilliant and be gone!”