Brevity: Three tips on speaking less while saying more


By Emma Serlin
November 16, 2019

We’ve all been that person in a scenario where we wanted to communicate something, but we realise with a sinking heart, we’ve fluffed it. The urge was there, to speak above the parapet, to have our voice heard. Yet, when our turn finally came, we took too long and talked too much. We end up walking away, doubting whether we really got our point across.

Saying less is more

Well, that’s because the truth is, an impact is sudden. Impressions are fleeting and time is precious. Saying something essential with gravitas and meaning does not need its equal weight in words. It’s only human to get tangled with grand explanations, detailed arguments or dramatic delivery, but there are ways to avoid this. Here are three tendencies we all have with practical tips from Emma Serlin to counter them.

1. The tendency of being underprepared.

The tendency of being underprepared.

Recognise when you ramble. Are you finding yourself on a carousel of thoughts? Turning around and around; loud, busy, bright and colourful but only connecting with your conversation once in a revolution when you manage to cast out a vague point?

When this happens, the people you’re talking to have to do a lot of work to separate out what your intentions are from all the extra ‘stuff.’ They have to gather all the loose ends you’ve thrown out. Who knows what they’ll eventually make of those. There’s effort for everyone involved, and you can’t be sure that you've passed on the true shape of your ideas; you’ve lost them in the maelstrom.

Top tip:

It’s worthwhile spending some time to clarify your objective for the conversation, particularly if it is high stakes such as speaking to an important client or your boss. Don’t rush in with a vague sense of what you want to say, thinking, ‘I’ll just wing that.’  

You may be a ‘fly by the seat of your pants’ type of person, but when it matters, it pays dividends to be prepared. Take some time to sit down and think about what you want to achieve from your conversation, and the three to five points that promote that objective. This will focus your thoughts, and enable you to build the landscape you want to in your listeners head.

2. The tendency to over-explain.

The tendency to over-explain.

Do you sometimes get so excited by your subject you just want to tell your listener, everything? Are you a stickler for detail? Do you feel like if you don’t tell them that absolute FULL story, they may not get the point at all? If you recognize these traits, you are probably guilty of over-explaining. And while there may be a place for it, (in a social setting with someone who loves details as much as you for example) in many conversations, and for many people, less is more.

Firstly, think about who you are speaking to. What detail do they need? Remember, ultimately, your communication is for your listeners, it is not about you, so being mindful of how they receive information will help you work out how much explanation to give. Also, consider if they like detail. Don't go to the trouble of preparing a lavish meal for someone when they’re a meat and two veg type of person.

Top tip:

If you don’t have time to pre-prepare your objectives, and circumstances demand a speedy response, then try this: jot down three to five keywords relating to your point and number them from 1-5 in the order you want to say them. This will give a quick shape to your thoughts, and make sure you keep on track with relevant points.  

3. Forgetting to Connect

Forgetting to Connect

It can sometimes be tempting, in the excitement of sharing your gems, to forget that communication is a two-way process. But this is a crucial one. If your listener is with you, you can talk as much as you like. But if you lose them, then no amount of words will bridge the gap between you and them.

Make sure you are aware of them as you speak. Let your eyes read what’s going on. Check if they are still with you by reading their facial expressions, eyes and body language. Try and connect with them through your words, think about delivering your ideas, right into the palm of their hands. This alone will make you less wordy as you are watching for the impact of each thought.

Top tip:

If the information comes back that you have lost them, then make sure you step off that carousel. Make eye contact, and ask them if they are still with you. This shared moment will give you time to breathe, think about your objective and start again. Don’t waste their time or the value of your words; stop and ask them “Am I being clear?” Open, honest responses will allow every conversation to be a two-way street.

Why Brevity can feel like a pearl in the hand.

Speaking with brevity

When someone is stepping into the communication dynamic unprepared and loquacious, there is often a sense they are thinking out loud, finding their own opinion amidst rambling thoughts, and as a result, there is a sense of unknowing, and it is difficult to find firm ground beneath your feet. Brevity is decisive, authoritative, assertive, but more importantly, it is a form of respect, and with respect, communicative relationships will flourish.

When someone knows what they want to say, it can make a powerful impression. If they make a few clear points, succinct and well laid out, then the listeners can feel in safe hands, they can get the information they need and move on. One gets the sense they respect their time and yours. Its like they really value themselves, and each point is like a pearl you place in their hands. We recognise them and appreciate their respect, (and brevity) in return.

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