by Mary K. Pratt

Tech Pros Need to Learn the Art of Brevity

May 30, 20143 mins
CareersIT SkillsMentoring

A communication expert -- author of the new book "Brief" -- says youu2019ll have a bigger impact by saying less. But it requires preparation.

Joe McCormack has a simple message: Be clear and concise if you want people to listen.

“Brevity is an essential skill to stand out,” says McCormack, founder and managing director of Sheffield Company, an agency focused on narrative messaging and visual storytelling. McCormack promotes that concept in a new book, Brief: Making a Bigger Impact by Saying Less, inspired by his work with clients such as the Army Special Operations Command.

Define brief.

Brief is as much about quality as it is about quantity. It’s a balance between being clear, concise and compelling.

How do you know if you lose your audience?

The worst indicator is to be ignored. The indicator that you haven’t lost them is that they respond. The best response is “Tell me more.”

Can you be too brief?

Yes, if you’re just concise, you’re just curt. You also have to be clear. [Ask yourself:] Am I giving the person enough to understand and then to do something?

What’s the best strategy for getting to the point quickly, but without losing context or being curt?

Prepare: What am I going to say? Why would they care? How could I cut out all the unnecessary information? If you knock on your boss’s door and say, “Do you have a minute? I want to give you an update,” and you don’t prepare, you’re probably going to miss the mark.

Why do people fail to prepare?

Lack of discipline. I talk about using an outline–it’s a manifestation of discipline. [You need to] think, “If I were them, what would I be hearing? What are my three most important points? Why am I here? What do I want them to know?”

Preparation makes it organized, ordered and clear, so it makes it effortless to hear.

Tech workers have a reputation for being especially poor communicators. Any theories on why?

I don’t know if they’re worse than anyone else, but what they deal with is complicated by nature. They speak a different language because it’s so technical. [They should] prepare more: Don’t over-explain. Try to summarize. Don’t get too excited about it that you want to tell everything. Have a point. And when you’ve gotten to the point, stop talking.

If you’ve prepared and given the right level of information, once you get to the point, you have to stop talking because they’re going to ask you a question.

If you don’t get a response, is there a way to rescue the exchange?

Ask a question. You want to figure out what they understand and what they didn’t understand. It’s better to know right away if they don’t understand than when you walk out of the room. Maybe they got distracted. Maybe they just didn’t hear what you said. Don’t take it personally.

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