10 Big Ideas from BRIEF



“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.

Via Brief: Make a Bigger Impact by Saying Less:

“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.

Via Brief: Make a Bigger Impact by Saying Less:

“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.

Via Brief: Make a Bigger Impact by Saying Less:

  • 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.

Via Brief: Make a Bigger Impact by Saying Less:

  • 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.

Via Brief: Make a Bigger Impact by Saying Less:

  1. Map It.  BRIEF Maps are used to condense and trim volumes of information.
  2. Tell it.  Narrative storytelling is used to explain in a way that’s clear, concise, and compelling.
  3. Talk it.  TALC Tracks turn monologues into controlled conversations.
  4. Show it.  Visuals attract attention and capture imagination.

6. Use BRIEF Maps to Deliver Brevity

Via Brief: Make a Bigger Impact by Saying Less:

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.

Via Brief: Make a Bigger Impact by Saying Less:

“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:

  1. 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?
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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?
  5. 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.

Via Brief: Make a Bigger Impact by Saying Less:

“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.

Via Brief: Make a Bigger Impact by Saying Less:

“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.

Via Brief: Make a Bigger Impact by Saying Less:

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

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  1. I truly struggle with this – I am finding I am getting more readers when my book reviews are about 400 words. I am consistent with 500 words right now, but the 400 are better and still do not ruin the story for the new reader. I can not tell you how many book reviews tell too much of the plot and then folks feel they have read the book and don’t need to explore more.

    I was also traditionally trained to write 20 minute sermons – I could see how uninterested the listeners were in the congregation – so I shortened it down to 1 concept with three examples from 3 concepts with historic referenced and 6 -9 examples.

    Now the Minister needs to be a great entertainer also -with great music and movement etc to keep people coming in the doors and paying the salary. I am not a good entertainer – great teacher,not good entertainer

    I have added this book to my list.

    Your posts on FB are not showing up for me…Do you have a new page and I missed the upgrade?

    • The struggle’s worth it.

      Just like the pursuit of goals helps us grow, the pursuit of brevity sharpens our mind, and amplifies our impact.

      It sounds like you found a repeatable recipe for engaging sermons. Examples bring ideas to life.

      The author of Brain Rules learned to be a better entertainer by applying what he knew about how our brains work. It helped him figure out how to pace his presentations and when to throw in breaks and surprises.

      You reminded me that I really should setup a Facebook page, for folks that want to consume through that. And, I suppose it might really be time for Twitter, too.

      All in good time 😉

      • I have been putting you on twitter weekly – talk about brief! even though I do not always comment here.


  2. @J.D Meier

    What I like about 10 Big Ideas is that it is scalable. Not only from book to book but small business to enteprise and industry to industry.

    What a great concept. I really like it and look forward to you applying it to other things in the future.

    • Great point, and it’s very portable.

      I like that 10 Big Ideas provides a bird’s-eye view, while at the same time, allows for drill-downs. Related, it also makes it easy to practice an idea, then come back for more.

      • Exactly what I was thinking. With drill downs each idea can have another 10 Big Ideas attached (And so on…). This is great for big picture and detail.

  3. Hi JD,

    This will give an high level idea about what the author intend to say about the subject. This is an great idea. I like it.

    Additionally you may want to include the
    1. Intended Audience for the book
    2. What makes you pick that book as an choice or how you generally pick a book to read.

    • Hey Mohan,

      Great points.

      For this particular book, it seems corporate warrior oriented, but it really can apply to anybody who needs to improve their ability to be brief and be bright.

      I should write a post on how I choose books, but basically I focus on books that help us rapidly improve our personal effectiveness (mind, body, emotions, career, financial, relationships, and fun.) I also look for extreme insight and action: ideas that can change our game, and actions we can practice to be more effective.

      As far as finding books, I tend to ask friends, family, and colleagues what books are changing their lives, and draw from those, and when I hit the bookstore, I flip through many, many books on the shelves, diving in and looking for game changing guidance and techniques that help us unleash our potential.

      I’ve also learned to pay attention to certain authors that have a powerful lens on the world or have a great gift or who have dedicated their focus to an interesting topic.

      For example, John Maxwell fills the shelves with “leadership” knowledge, and Edward de Bono fills the shelves with “thinking techniques.” What I especially like about de Bono is he focused on putting the power of executive thinking skills in the hands of anyone and everyone.

      • That’s Great way to go.

        I never complete a book from cover to cover and i read the book until i loose my interest over the subject and this makes me feel some times that i did not read that book.

        Do you read book from start to end? or you will skip..

        • In my fast mode, I tend to finish most books in under an hour — I go end-to-end, and I take notes as I go with yellow stickies so I can flip back through.

          Other times, I hop in and out of books, leaving a trail of yellow sticky notes to refer back to.

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