“Stop talking already,” my client said. “Everyone would appreciate it.”

Well, that’s not exactly what he said.  “Let’s try to end this workshop a few minutes early to beat rush hour,” was his actual comment.

But the message was the same: Say less.

I hear that more.

Are you concise?  Consider:

1) Whether you’re talking for two minutes or two days, know your main message—10 words or less.

Example:  Here’s a main message about nutrition from author Michael Pollan:  “Eat food.  Not too much.  Mostly plants” (“In Defense of Food“).

Actually that’s three messages. The first, “eat food,” is to avoid processed products.  Still, the whole thing is seven words.

2) Use simple words.  “He was an old man who fished alone . . . and he had gone eighty-four days now without taking a fish.”

That’s the first line from Ernest Hemingway’s “The Old Man and the Sea.” Hemingway was famous for simple words and short sentences.

3) Here’s what “The Old Man and the Sea” looks like, by the way, as a PP slide:

  • Old man catches big fish
  • Sharks come
  • They eat the fish
  • Nothing left, except backbone
  • Very sad

4) Hemingway chose to write a novel, not a PP slide.

Being concise doesn’t mean speaking 24/7 in bullet points.

Otherwise, you’ll sound like a prisoner of war, or a terse teenager (who thinks he’s a prisoner of war).

5) The key: give appropriate detail.

6) What’s appropriate detail?  That depends on your audience.  If you’re a fisherman speaking to a fishing audience, they’ll want more detail; non-fishers, less.

7) Your audience will give you clues.  Observe them.  When you’re talking to someone and she starts tapping a pencil, or a foot, or the side of your head, that’s a clue.

8) To practice giving more/less detail, prep 15 second, 30 second, and 60 second answers to the same question.  Then be flexible.

9) (Let’s skip #9.)

Tip:  Use words.  Not a lot.  Mostly simple. (Michael Pollan’s nutrition advice, version 2.0, food for thought).

© Copyright Paul Hellman. All rights reserved.

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