En bref – meaning ‘briefly’ in French – popped into mind this morning while reading an article on the benefits of brevity.
As I ponder my own run-on sentences, my jam-packed days that compromise my ability to get to the point, and my inevitable confusion – like yours? – courtesy of conflicting opinions and priorities – I’m happy to share a resource that helps focus on focus.
Moreover, it boosts my belief in the the beauty of brevity.
The Benefits of Brevity
There is much to be said for brevity, though we struggle to achieve it.
Try adhering to content requirements that are aimed to please the machinery of Google, leading us to expound rather than be concise. Try softening potentially controversial views in a thicket of pretty qualifiers so as not to offend.
I plead guilty on both counts.
Still, I value brevity and direct communication – where it serves my purpose.
Our 8-Second Attention Span
As proof of that pudding, I offer you “Why Brevity Is Becoming a Business Basic,” as Michelle M. Smith addresses time as a scarce resource, competition for our attention, the cost of interruptions, and the scourge of information overload.
Ms. Smith explains:
The average person’s attention span is now only 8 seconds, and professionals are interrupted 6-7 times an hour… More than 43 percent of us abandon complicated or lengthy emails in the first 30 seconds, and the majority of us admit ignoring half the emails we receive every day.
Eight seconds! Yikes!
Be Brief AND Smart
I recall counseling a client once to cut email campaign copy by half and web content, nearly as much. In both instances, I recommended changes to formatting and more commanding images.
Hook them, do it fast, but also, do it well.
Brevity is a bust if it isn’t on target. And Ms. Smith is succinct on that score when she writes:
If you can’t capture your audience’s attention and deliver your message with brevity, people will disconnect with you… successful people will be masters of brevity.
“Capture” the audience. Be a “master” of brevity. Not so easy.
My writing? If it exceeds 800 words (in this venue), it’s for lack of time to edit. The briefer I am, the more work I’ve put into refining the writing.
Recognizing that my busy days (like yours) are a mad juggle of competing priorities (and hey, this isn’t a paying gig), sometimes “good enough” is the right (and only) decision. 1000 words? 1200 words? I’ll live with it… and hope the reader is understanding.
So what about topics that necessitate extensive or delicate handling? Aren’t some subjects too complex to be brief?
We may love Twitter’s 140-character snippets or The Week for its able summarization of stories, yet isn’t there a need for lengthy discussion when it comes to the economy or social issues, and don’t we benefit from long journalism? For that matter, when expressing feelings in a relationship, brevity may work against us.
Get to the Point!
If we’re dealing with a husband or wife who is stressed, tired, and in the middle of juggling, won’t a request be better received if it’s brief? Shouldn’t we be prepared to deliver our words concisely?
Brevity may go AWOL when we’re speaking with our children. Fatigue, frustration, emotion – they all kick in and sticking to the point loses out. (Who hasn’t lectured an adolescent, rather than going with Just Say No?)
Sure, there are times that explanation is essential to providing context – true of our teams as well as our teens. But why is it that we struggle with getting to the point?
The Hedging Habits of Relationships
Much as I would like to blame the barrage of emails, multitasking mania, and interruptions as the primary culprits – relationship habits have a hand in our prevaricating postures. We grow accustomed to speaking to spouses sweetly (if we want our way), to acquaintances without risk of offending (if we want to maintain our connections), and to neighbors with whatever it takes (to keep the peace).
Bref – We carry these tendencies into arenas where they don’t belong.
We lose the habit of discerning when brief is better – with the boss, the co-worker, or for that matter, the main squeeze, the hormonal kid, or the owner of the barking beagle.
The Brevity Breakdown
If the advantages of brevity break down at first glance, perhaps that’s because brevity isn’t applicable. In the example of exchanging feelings with the languishing lover, brevity gets a big Thumbs Down.
When dissecting a complicated topic, brevity may be ineffective. Breaking down the whole into (brief) manageable units or addressing the issues over time may help.
A third option? Try varying the delivery so it continues to “capture the attention” of your target audience.
Read My Lips
Successful speakers read their listeners – whether we’re talking a first date or a first-in-the-series seminar. Other tools of the communications trade include humor, surprise, likeability, body language, and clearly, excellent verbal skills.
Sex appeal? Never hurts. Though it’s a fine line to walk, now isn’t it…
Not to be given short shrift is preparation, which solidifies competence and reinforces confidence. Confidence is always a winner when we’re looking to teach, to lead, or to inspire.
The Harvard Business Review Blog reminds us not to confuse clarity with brevity. Clarity first, conciseness second, and that doesn’t mean we can’t achieve both.
Have I lost you?
I hope not.
Sadly, once again, I’m pressed for time…
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