How To Master The Art of Brevity and Present Clear, Simple Communication

How To Master The Art of Brevity and Present Clear, Simple Communication


Today’s world is on information overload, and there isn’t enough time to sift through all the messages. If you can’t capture people’s attention and deliver your message with brevity, you’ll lose them. Smart people present to busy people, who are constantly flooded with information, are regularly interrupted, are easily distracted and often grow impatient. When they don’t get the clarity they need quickly, they check out. You know you have terrific ideas to pitch and important information to share. So how do you get the other person to listen to it?

The modern, multitasking mind is a barrier — and brevity is the key to entry. When you think you have an hour and you wait to deliver the good stuff until the end, you’re too late. You already lost your audience in the first few minutes. But if you capture their attention and manage it right away, none of these challenging circumstances will affect your presentation. You have to get to the point in five minutes, not 50. A master of brevity says less and gets more done.

The Harmony of Clear, Concise and Compelling

To be brief doesn’t just mean being concise. Your responsibility is to balance how long it takes to convey a message well enough to cause a person to act on it. That’s the harmony of brevity when it’s striking the right chords. There’s a tendency to think brevity is pushing for less and runs the risk of being superficial and lacking substance.

Brevity starts with deep expertise. Only with thorough knowledge can you accurately make a summary. Being brief can demonstrate how you’ve gone through that learning experience. The road to brevity, then, requires hard work and lots of time. Doing all the digging and analysis on your own time saves the members of your audience from doing the labor themselves.

Why You Struggle with Brevity

Why can’t we simply add “being succinct” to our tool belt, alongside punctuality and neat handwriting? There is no single reason why people find it hard to be brief. Love of talking seems to be the logical front-runner, but in reality, it is among a short list of seven key contributors that can be deadly if left unchecked.

1. Cowardice: You hide behind meaningless words and don’t have the guts to be clear and take a stand. Your leadership team doesn’t know what to do with your assessment and guidance and subconsciously starts questioning your leadership ability.

2. Confidence: You are a know-it-all and, to everyone’s dismay, cannot restrain yourself from explaining every painful detail. Nobody likes to talk to you because once you start, there is little they can do to stop you.

3. Callousness: You are selfish and don’t respect people’s time. Even though you are in a hurry when people speak to you, time stands still when you have the floor. If people see that you don’t respect their time, they’ll stop respecting you.

4. Comfort: You let yourself get loose and wordy with people who know you. You have a double standard: you’re succinct with important people, yet long-winded with those you know well.You should treat everyone the same way; they are busy and begging you to be brief.

5. Confusion: You choose to think out loud when it is still not clear to you what you are thinking — which is a big mistake. Even though your idea is still developing and in lots of pieces, people will make judgments about you and your abilities.

6. Complication: You firmly believe that there are some things too complex to be simplified — even though the world highly values people who can simplify difficult concepts. When they don’t get it, they lose patience and trust.

7. Carelessness: You are often verbally sloppy and let your mind and message get mixed up, leaving people guessing and frustrated.

Consider this list to be a personal checklist of what you need to work on to become a lean communicator and a master of brevity.

Mental Muscle Memory to Master Brevity

To learn brevity, you need a plan of attack — details on how you’re going to change. Four proven approaches can be used alone or together to create mental muscle memory, that is, habits we should adopt and never abandon because they make us better professionals. The approach looks something like this:

Map It: From Mind Mapping to BRIEF Maps

Professionals seem to think they can outgrow outlines. Although it’s a common requirement in school, people abandon them as they get older.This is especially true — surprisingly — when preparing for important communication, whether it’s a big pitch, meeting, progress report or email correspondence.There’s no outline to be seen.

It’s a huge mistake to make, especially when you consider the vast amount of information you have to handle, distill and disseminate in these situations. Five immediate benefits to outlining are they keep you prepared, organized, clear, contextual and confident.

The practice of mind mapping — or visual outlining — is spreading steadily through the business world. Its adoption makes sense, since all the ingredients that make this method so attractive are present nowadays: a widespread adoption of software, broad use of whiteboards, growing impatience with linear learning, and a strong preference for visual presentations.

Mind mapping software providers like Mindjet are giving individuals a simpler and more powerful tool to wrestle with information overload and put order to chaos. What makes software like Mindjet –– and even free, toned-down tools like –– so appealing is that they’re highly visual, logical and intuitive to use and share.

A specific type of mind map –– a BRIEF Map –– improves communication by simplifying complex messages into a one-page visual outline. BRIEF Maps can outline progress reports, capture meeting summaries and synthesize strategies.They can articulate a corporate vision, isolate a key aspect of a new product, or simplify a complex initiative or issue that could potentially take a long time to understand.The focal point or headline of your communication is called the BRIEF Box; that is step 1. From there every BRIEF Map is organized the following way:

B: Background or beginning R: Reason or relevance I: Key information E: Intended ending F: Expected follow-up questions

Brevity is all about preparation and pre-assembly. When you successfully prepare to deliver important messages, you are confident that you’ve already thought through the key information your audience needs.You’re giving people a pre-constructed message.A BRIEF Map is a visual outlining tool that prepares you to be succinct.

Tell It: The Role of Narratives

It can be frustrating for people to visit a company’s website, read it and leave without knowing what the company does. And that happens all too often — not just online but in meetings, presentations and conferences. Businesspeople talk but say nothing.

Thankfully, organizations are beginning to notice that telling stories is a strategic way to manage people’s attention. It’s not only an acceptable business practice these days; it’s the key to establishing a powerful, common and lasting understanding.Yet how many companies tell a good story? Most are eminently forgettable, usually because they all sound the same.

You’re not a journalist, and you don’t think like one— but you should. Anybody who regularly communicates important information and wants to get and hold people’s attention can benefit from a crash course in journalism. Key considerations of a great story include a strong headline, compelling lead paragraph, clear sense of conflict, personal voice, consistent narrative thread, logical sequence of events, character development and a powerful conclusion. And it must make sense, have a point and come to a resolution.

Keep stories short and to the point. We’re not talking about “Once upon a time” here. We’re talking about a corporate narrative that explains why, how, who, when, where and so what. These stories must tackle and decode business issues, strategic decisions, new trends and complex market dynamics — while making all of it personal and intelligible. People are buried in corporate-speak, but you can help them by embracing narrative storytelling to be clear, concise and compelling.

Talk It: Controlled Conversations and TALC Tracks

To be brief means to avoid endless monologues and to start having conversations with a rhythm, a purpose and a point. Real brevity invites and encourages really good, meaningful, controlled conversations, meaning two people talking willingly — and enjoying it — but not feeling the conversation has to last forever to be worthwhile.

A controlled conversation is a disciplined conversation. What you’re talking about matters to the person you’re talking to, and your active listening tells you what matters to that person.You have the other person’s interest and assent. Controlled conversations make you feel free to stop at any time and not risk alienating anybody or feeling awkward.

TALC Tracks –– talk, active listening, converse — are a tactic for organizing almost any exchange in a powerful way to keep it brief and memorable.The TALC approach is not a formula; it is an adjustable method that helps you track the ideas your conversation partner shares and project interesting paths for the conversation to follow. It doesn’t just call on the techniques of mapping or storytelling; it’s about having a balanced, controlled conversation. Let’s look at each part in detail.

• T, or talk: Somebody starts talking. Let that person say what he or she is going to say. Don’t worry if it lasts one minute or five; just let the person talk.

• AL, or actively listen: Closely listen to what the other person is saying with interest the entire time. Listen for key words, names, dates and even a basic narrative thread.

• C, or converse. When a natural pause comes, jump in and comment, question or even bridge to a different topic that’s related to what’s being said. Contribute to building one conversation.

The concept of the controlled conversation and TALC Tracks means that you’ll be prepared for conflict or agreement. You can keep a conversation on point and represent your agenda effectively while respecting what someone else has to say. Controlled conversation isn’t about controlling the conversation as much as it is controlling yourself in the conversation.That is what will make you an effective communicator.

Show It: Powerful Ways to Make a Picture Exceed a Thousand Words

We are transitioning from a text-based world to a visual one. Screens and interactive media pervade all parts of our lives. Screens are in our homes, our classrooms, our elevators, even our bathrooms.They have replaced phones, books, newspapers, billboards and printed menus.

Studies show that whereas we remember only 10 percent of what we hear and 30 percent of what we read, we remember a whopping 80 percent of what we see. There is an enormous opportunity for visual communication to increase the effectiveness and brevity of what we communicate. The days of text-heavy news pages are over. For all industries, communicating effectively today requires communicating visually.

Infographic designers need to first understand the essential point of what they are trying to communicate. This is the easy part. The hard part is finding a correlating visual that explains the story with images. Here are some easy ways to jump into the visual world: Google images that relate to your presentation; draw during your presentations; find short videos online; make short videos of your own; use a whiteboard to illustrate; bring in small items for show-and-tell lessons; look into for a different kind of presentation; show stunning photography instead of words; substitute icons for frequently used words.

Video storytelling is becoming a more prominent way not only to educate and market but also to entertain and engage audiences. Companies around the world are creating their own YouTube or Vimeo channels to tell their story visually. But as with any form of communication, when you create a video, you must be highly sensitive to your audience.You want to keep videos short.The average video on YouTube is about three to five minutes; after that amount of time, people start to lose interest and click away. Also, be mindful of the time and the quality. If your videos have an amateurish feel, you will lose your audience immediately. You want to think more like a broadcaster and less like a marketer.  

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