3 ways to say more by saying less

In the last decade, our attention spans have decreased from 12 seconds to 8 seconds, and we consume more information per day than people did in a lifetime in 1900. With the barrage of content we encounter on a daily basis, it’s essential to learn how to communicate with brevity, says Joe McCormack, author of Brief: Make a Bigger Impact by Saying Less, founder of The BriefLab, and managing director and founder of the Sheffield Company.

“You cannot survive in business today unless you can master brevity, at least in key moments,” McCormack says. “It’s not just about saying less; it’s about how to say more by saying less.”

McCormack has worked with the U.S. Army in Special Operations and with companies such as Harley-Davidson, MasterCard, Hoffman-La Roche and Jones Lang LaSalle on message development. The healthcare industry, in particular, has a need for clear, concise communication, he says.

“In healthcare, complexity plus change equals constant confusion,” McCormack says. “The industry is inherently complex anyway, and getting more complex every day—much more so than other industries. Healthcare leaders need to become masters of brevity because their job is to explain complexity and change to a confused audience. They have a much harder job than most executives.”’

Statistics that The BriefLab has collected on inattention are astounding and illustrate the reasons behind our increasing attention deficit.

For example, Americans typically check their smartphones 150 times daily, collectively taking in 34 gigabytes of content. Professionals receive over 300 emails every week and are interrupted every eight minutes, equaling 50 to 60 interruptions per workday. Since it takes about 25 minutes to return to a task after being interrupted, that means individuals are truly focused for only about six hours weekly. It’s no surprise then that learning to be brief is absolutely vital to succeeding in today’s business world.

“To be brief is not just to be concise, because you can be too brief. Length is relative to how much information people need to know. If it’s not necessary, don’t say it.”

One good way to start embracing brevity is to go back to that trusty high school English skill—outlining. “Most people don’t outline because they feel like they’ve outgrown it,” McCormack says. “However, 75 percent of people are visual learners. A mind map or a visual outline is a logical way to be clear and concise and figure out the balance between clear (quality) and concise (quantity).”

McCormack makes an important distinction, though: “To be brief is not just to be concise, because you can be too brief. Length is relative to how much information people need to know. If it’s not necessary, don’t say it.”

McCormack has three steps to help make your communication more concise and to the point.

1. Take time to prepare.

Don’t think that because it’s a brief conversation or a short exchange that you can wing it. It takes time to be succinct, so you have to spend a little more time upfront to save other people time later. Prepare yourself before you knock on your boss’s door, send an email, get on the phone to leave a voicemail or have any important exchange. This is where an outline can come in handy.

2. Ask yourself, “What is my point?”

Think like a journalist. You should be able to state your headline within the first 30 seconds of any exchange. Why is this so important? Nearly 75 percent of professionals will tune out of a presentation after one minute if it doesn’t have a clear point, according to a BriefLab survey.

3. Stop when you’ve made your point.

When you stop talking, one of two things will happen: a conversation or a silence. If a conversation doesn’t ensue, you haven’t really made your point.

Some of the tools McCormack recommends healthcare leaders use to help them simplify are stories, anecdotes, analogies, infographics, short animations and images.

If a picture is worth a thousand words and people speak 150 words a minute, one picture is about seven minutes’ worth. Healthcare executives always have to be on the lookout for the probability that the audience they’re talking to doesn’t really get it, or at least aspects of it. The industry is drowning in information already, so you have to explain things carefully and concisely. Don’t assume for a second that the audience understands.

Another useful tip for making presentations: Don’t overdo the number of slides you use or you will lose your audience. McCormack recommends using seven. Start with the title slide. The second slide should briefly explain the point of the presentation. The next three slides can detail the who, where and/or how of the point. The sixth should explain the “so what?” and the last should be some sort of conclusion. Be sure to use applicable images (and avoid clip art) to help drive home your point.

Visit www.TheBriefLab.com for free tools and tips to help you hone your message.

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