Joe McCormack is an experienced marketing executive, successful entrepreneur and author, Joe is recognized for his work in narrative messaging and corporate storytelling. His new book, Brief: Make a Bigger Impact by Saying Less (Wiley & Sons, 2014) tackles the timeliness of the “less is more” mandate.
Related Transcript and Podcast: Be Effective, Be Brief
Joe: Can I just sum that up saying that the first step in being brief is preparation?
Joseph: Preparation is huge. I know in talking to people about this topic three consistent tendencies that people have that many people are not aware of. The first is the tendency to over explain. The second tendency is the tendency to under prepare; not taking more time. There’s a famous quote that says “I would have written you a short letter if I had more time,” attributed to Mark Twain, which is a great quote because it takes time to prepare. And then the third thing is missing the point completely; not knowing what the essential point is. But preparation is an absolute key element that people just don’t spend nearly enough time doing.
Joe: I think Winston Churchill has a great quote along that same line where he says, “If you want me to write or speak for twenty minutes,” – I forgot how the quote goes – “I can do it right now. But if you want me to say it in a paragraph, it will take me a fortnight,” or something to that line.
Joseph: Exactly. What happens is it makes sense but people think about a short communication as being easy. Like “Oh I’m just going to talk to my boss for five minutes. I’m going to leave a quick voice mail. This is going to be a short part of the agenda.” And the truth is the shorter you speak the harder it is to do it well. People need to spend more time upfront preparing it. They get lured into the false sense of “Oh because this is short I’ll just wing it,” and it gets people into a lot of trouble.
Joe: A second part of what you go into in the Discipline part is the foundation of a story. You want to tell people in a story form but most stories seem to run on. How do I prevent that?
Joseph: Make the distinction between a short story and a long story. So I think we’re talking about the short story format which is perfectly suited for people’s attention spans. People’s attentions spans a decade ago were twelve seconds and now they’re eight. So we need to put it into a smaller package. Stories are beautiful, people love them but you can’t fall in love with them and tell the long version. You have to be gifted at cutting out the excess detail and giving people a nice concise narrative that hits the mark.
Joe: But how do I keep discussions brief and to the point? Am I manipulating it? Is that what I’m doing? I’m trying to have a conversation, a dialogue?
Joseph: Yes, I think that first of all nobody is nearly as interesting as they think they are. So part of it is –you’re right – you want brevity to be “I’m saying a little. I want to invite a conversation.” So brevity omits monologues. That’s one of the benefits of being brief is it’s not just you talking, you’re having a conversation with somebody else. When you’re in a conversation with somebody once you’ve made a point, stop talking and then have a person ask you a question and respond. And people fail to do that and then they ramble. It should just be brief interludes of a balanced conversation or two people are talking about the same thing, not waiting for their turn to talk.
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