“Brevity is the soul of wit.” — William Shakespeare, Hamlet
I finished reading Brief: Make a Bigger Impact by Saying Less, by Joseph McCormack.
It’s a brilliant book on the art and science of brevity.
The point is this:
If you can’t capture people’s attention and deliver your message with brevity, you’ll lose them.
With that in mind, I’m going to share 10 big ideas from the book that I think will help you cut the fluff, make your point, and share your ideas in a stickier way.
1. Master “Lean Communication”
Verbosity can weight you down and hold you back. If you want to succeed in today’s information overloaded world, learn to be a lean communicator.
“When you want to get more, decide to say less. Those who want to succeed — even thrive — in an attention-deficit economy are masters of lean communication. They stand out, their ideas are seen and heard, and their companies succeed. Decide that being brief is your non-negotiable standard.”
2. What We Learned in School is All Wrong
To succeed in school means to elaborate. To succeed in the real world means to condense. It’s value, not volume.
“According to Adam Brown, corporate social media pioneer, our education is somewhat at fault for our verbosity. The classic educational approach is to have students write to achieve a minimum word limit, for instance, an 800-word essay. To win mindshare in social media, however, is to do the exact opposite. Brown says, ‘It’s fundamentally against the way we have been trains to write. But nowadays to succeed means to condense. Most people consume social media on their mobile devices. I call it the brand in hand. It’s very likely the person is on the move — on the subway, waiting to pick up their kids. The bottom line is: they’re doing something else. So you’ve got to get those nuggets of wisdom, or conversation, or storytelling briefer and more succinct.’”
3. Embrace a New Form of ADD (Awareness, Discipline, and Decisiveness)
Use ADD to your advantage. But first redefine it.
- Awareness — the conviction to hold yourself and others to a higher standard of succinctness.
- Discipline — the BRIEF approach to producing the mental muscle memory necessary to make you a lean communicator every time.
- Decisiveness — the ability to recognize key moments when you need to convey what really matters effectively and efficiently.
4. Live the “Less is More” Way
Cut the fluff and embrace the whitespace. Trim what’s unnecessary, to leave what’s consumable and concise.
- Ensure instant appreciation. People are thankful when it requires less energy to grasp the same basic information in less time.
- Look for what weights you down. Cutting out the finer detail requires attention and awareness for what unnecessarily burdens people.
- Keep in mind what people care about. When you are throwing things out, it may be hard to decide what goes – but keep in mind what people will really care about.
5. Master 4 Keys to Brevity
You can master brevity by learning how to organize your mind, and learning techniques to tell, talk, and show your ideas with clarity and precision.
- Map It. BRIEF Maps are used to condense and trim volumes of information.
- Tell it. Narrative storytelling is used to explain in a way that’s clear, concise, and compelling.
- Talk it. TALC Tracks turn monologues into controlled conversations.
- Show it. Visuals attract attention and capture imagination.
6. Use BRIEF Maps to Deliver Brevity
Every BRIEF Map is organized in the following way:
B: Background or beginning
R: Reason or relevance
I: Information for inclusion
E: Ending or conclusion
F: Follow-up or questions you expect to be asked or that you might ask
7. Use Narrative Maps to Break Through the Blah, Blah, Blah
Narrative Maps help you map out your message in a logical and repeatable way that gets to the essentials fast, and helps you eliminate distractions and clutter.
“Narrative Maps consist of several elements that make it easier to explain messages and give them clarity and context. They have a clockwise build, you start with the center bubble, and add bubbles around it clockwise:
- Focal point (center bubble): This is the central part of a narrative. It’s akin to a headline and explains and isolates the point of the story: It is about innovation, change, competition or something else?
- Setup or challenge (the bubble directly above the focal point): What challenge, conflict, or issue exists in the marketplace that your organization is addressing? Why does this problem exist, and who contributes to it? This begins to isolate within the story the major issue.
- Opportunity (moving clockwise, the bubble to the top right): What is the implication or the opportunity for your organization? This is what some people call an unmet need or an aha moment: something that you could do to begin to effect change or to address and resolve an issue.
- Approach (continuing to move clockwise around the center bubble, the three of our bubbles moving around the focal point): How does your story unfold? What are the three or four characters or elements? What is the how, where, or when?
- Payoff (the bubble to the top left of the focal point): All stories have a conclusive end-state or payoff. How do you resolve the set up from the beginning? For example, let’s say that the story is about innovation, and there are four ways in which the company is going to innovate. How is that going to benefit somebody? Where does the story conclude? Who feels the benefits?”
8. Give an Intriguing Single Story the TED Talk Way
We can take a page out of the TED Talk playbook to create simpler and more compelling stories.
“Emily McManus, editor of TED’s website says, ‘By 5 minutes in, you need to get into the middle arc of your story. The best thing you can do if you’re trying to compress is not try to tell the entire story of your entire field in 15 minutes. Rather, you want to give an intriguing single story. The best speakers are the ones whose story has a beginning, a middle, and an end, but starts in the middle. People who talk about very specialized subjects need the ability to give an overview of a field in a few minutes. They lay out some of the hard problems and then focus on one specific aspect of that problem.’”
9. Communicate Like Human Beings
Don’t fall into the trap of going into “presentation” mode or “writing mode.” Talk to people like a human being, and use simple language, as if you were explaining to a friend.
“David Meerman Scott says, ‘Some organizations muck up their communications with words that vaguely sounds impressive and important. But at a company like HubSpot, all of the marketing people are required to constantly be in the marketplace, talking to people, whether it’s on the phone or electronically and through social networks. So they’re not guessing the language that the market uses. They’re communicating like human beings — because when human beings have a conversation, they don’t use that impressive, overused language.’”
10. Check In
Just because heads are nodding, that doesn’t mean ideas are sticking. Check to be sure.
Pausing to check in with your audience gets you to stop talking and lets you know if people are paying attention and tracking what you are saying.
- You’ll be understood. Most people mistakenly assume what they say is clear. Instead, be convinced that the audience gets easily lost. Your primary concerns is to ask good, open-ended questions to ensure they’re on the same page.
- It ensures you’re clear and concise. By pausing periodically, you’re not only trimming; you’re also testing whether they get it. If you don’t ask, they won’t tell.
- It eliminates monologues. If you don’t check in, they’ll check out.
Brief: Make a Bigger Impact by Saying Less is a playbook and a reference guide for learning how to cut the fluff, expand the whitespace, and connect with people in a clear and concise way.
The book covers far more than what I covered here, but if you apply these 10 big ideas to your work and life, I hope you can free up some time, and free up some space, and practice your Lean Communication skills.