Why shorter is sweeter

Today I spent considerable time helping my VP craft two very important emails: one for a client and one for our payroll company.

As I talked, she typed and we realized we both had a lot we wanted to say.

And suddenly, there were just far too many words.

We stopped and deleted — and then deleted some more. Important communication doesn’t require a thud factor. More is not more. Of course there are times when more words are necessary for diplomacy or clarification, but in this always-on digital age, “more” often dilutes or complicates your message.

Get to the point. Now. My husband used to be the worst at leaving voice messages. He told his boss what he wanted to say. Then he told his boss what he meant by that. And then he summarized for his boss what he’d just said. All in one long, excruciating voice message. “He got it!” I yelled from across the living room one evening, having heard the message he was recording. In a voicemail, just state your name, quickly explain your reason for calling and give the person a call-to-action. Do they need to call you back or is this just an FYI? Let them know. Think, should you text the message instead?

Three is a magic number. Early in my career I worked for a company called 3Com. Everything they did was in threes. Now when I feel the need to explain something complex, my 3Com days remind me to narrow everything down to the three most important points. Usually, once the top three points are listed, I realize the other info is extraneous or redundant anyway. Magic!

Use bullets. Giant blocks of text in any document require unbelievable concentration from the reader — and few readers have time, patience or concentration to slog through dense text unless absolutely necessary. They want to scan for what they need to know, and bullets are my favorite way to communicate info quickly. Tell the reader up front what the message is about and outline your points with bullets consisting of concise phrases, not complete sentences. Finally, close with a call-to-action — whatever it is you want the reader to do next.

Keep meetings focused. We’ve all suffered through endless meetings in which someone talks and talks and very little gets communicated. Make sure everyone is clear about the meeting goals and keep the time under 30 minutes to maintain a sense of urgency and focus. Some people hold daily ‘Scrum’ status update meetings — 15-minute power sessions — during which everyone stands. Also, consider whether laptops, tablets and smartphones should be allowed or banned during meetings. If allowed, people tend to tune out the speaker and read their email — killing productivity and prolonging the meeting.

As Socrates once memorably said, “How many are the things I can do without!” Being brief in your communications requires you to stop and think about what to say and how to communicate the most important things. By getting to the point, quickly and clearly, you can make less do more.