Thursday, 27 April 2017

Conciseness - How Effective A Communicator Are You?







"Wow. I'm really looking forward to that long speech/presentation/report!"


Said no one.


Ever.


No one is going to complain that your speech, presentation, email or any kind of communication is short, if it's concise i.e. if it's brief but comprehensive, or short but complete.



We often hide behind verbosity to convey intelligence or to appear knowledgeable. We've all been guilty of using rambling, flowery language in attempts to inform, refute, or persuade but have we been effective in those circumstances?


No, we haven't.


This is because in order to be brief, we must understand the subject matter to be able to explain it to a six-year-old; otherwise, as Albert Einstein once suggested, we don't understand the concept ourselves.


Conciseness is one of the three beacons of effective communication, (the other two being simplicity and clarity) that I highlighted in a previous article as being necessary for getting the results you seek. It is also very difficult to get right.


Most professionals whom I coach recognise the need for brevity in business communication, even though many struggle with it. Nevertheless, conciseness can be achieved by consistently doing two things:


1) By understanding your subject matter




You can't write anything meaningful until you truly understand your topic. This point might sound obvious but is often overlooked. You can't get away with 'having an idea' of what you want to communicate. You have to know.


So research your topic; find out details of the project; and be clear about the goal of the communication. Once you understand the purpose for that speech, official statement or report, you can proceed to the next (obvious) step:



Write out the 'bones' of the communication in the simplest sentence(s) you can manage. 


For example:


a) We recorded poor figures for our financial performance in the company in the last two quarters. 



b) We need to write a report to list the causes for the poor results. We also need to give solutions that will lead to profitability for the rest of the year.


From the above, it is clear that the communication required must address two points:



I)  The causes for the dismal figures.


II) The solutions to be implemented to ensure that surpluses are recorded in subsequent quarters. 



Next, either expand or tighten your 'bones' as required: 




This report will highlight the reasons for the deficits recorded in the company from September 1, 2016 to April 2, 2017. It will also recommend actions to be implemented to attain consistent profitability.



And that will be rationale for, or introduction to the report. Two sentences totalling 33 words, instead of a paragraph or two of fluff.


Conciseness is invaluable in our daily business activities because of short attention spans and different activities competing for our time.  When considered with simplicity and clarityconciseness gives us the credibility we seek.


As a bonus, note that you're more likely to influence people when you know your onions.





2) By editing ruthlessly























In my coaching sessions, I often give participants class exercises. One useful test is a paragraph of five lines, rife with clutter, which participants are told to "edit ruthlessly". They are required to eliminate needless words/phrases to tighten the piece. Sessions quickly become interesting when different versions of the content emerge and the meanings are changed.



Some caution: don't go overboard with editing that you change the original meaning of your piece. I recommend audibly reading first to quickly detect grammatical errors before proceeding to editing your content.



To make your writing brief but complete, you'd need to become brutal with your editing. The famous phrase “kill all your darlings”—attributed to the late American author and Nobel Prize laureate in literature, William Faulkner—commands that you eliminate clutter, creative or otherwise, which makes your writing wordy or ambiguous. In particular, you should annihilate those terms you love and consider creative gold. This is tough but will be worth it when your writing becomes succinct.


Recently, I came to appreciate the effect of concise messaging. I had taken my children for some ice cream at the Ice Cream Factory at the Circle Mall in Lekki, Lagos. Whilst they enjoyed their treat, I was drawn to a series of short, punchy statements about ice cream stencilled onto the wallpaper, and got an 'aha' moment. They were all true. No gimmicks, no big words, just statements about how we feel about ice cream.


Case in point:






Now the company could have written longer, factual sentences about the cold dessert that might impress some. They may have even coined a slogan that you might remember. However, the beauty of their message would be lost.



Less is infinitely better.



Brands, take note - those short sentences teach a practical lesson in how to use emotive messaging to connect with your customers.


And yes, I will be returning to the Ice Cream Factory, not only because of their delicious ice cream and other mouth-watering selections but also because of the cosy ambience and concise messaging.



Conclusion


Not everyone is blessed with superb communication skills. Until science proves otherwise, the propensity to become dynamic communicators isn’t wired into our DNA.

And that's fine.


Most of us who are desirous of improving or honing our communication skills must therefore practise consistently.

In general, striving for conciseness makes us effective and memorable professionals. Thus, people will thank us when our addresses are short but sweet; they will support us when our reports are brief but comprehensive; and they would act swiftly when our emails include one-liners that hit the spot.




Dare to be different.


So how effective a communicator are you? What has worked for you and what hasn't?


Kindly share your experiences below.


P.S - I've added a new page to this blog: Clients. It can be accessed from the homepage. Kindly take a look. Remember that I provide customised communications coaching for individuals, groups and companies. Contact me for details if you need help.


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Let me help you get results.

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N.B:  First image is courtesy of Sira Anamwong; via freedigitalphotos.net. Second image is courtesy of Alesanko R.; via freedigitalphotos.net. Third image is courtesy of Keerati; via freedigitalphotos.net. Fourth image is courtesy of the Ice Cream Factory, Lagos. Last image is courtesy of Iosphere; via freedigitalphotos.net.



4 comments:

  1. Great article, and one of the most useful to me personally. Let me say out of all my written communication issues the one thing I struggle with is concise communications (emails, articles e.t.c). I write the way I talk and sometimes don't realize the message can be conveyed in much simpler terms.

    Nowhere is this more applicable than in writing technical documentation, as an Engineer we revel in use of technical terms, industry slangs, abbreviations and verbose explanations thinking its a sign of professionalism. It is clear borrowing a leaf from Albert Einstein the real genius is able to explain complex concepts in simple, clear concise English.


    A tip I have resulted to using similar to the bone structure is, bullet points, put down a couple of these with key words or phrases that strike at the heart of the message and slowly link with conjunction words. Tends to help and stop me waffling on, also I am a fan of editing ruthlessly and killing unnecessary statements which we can be sentimentally attached to.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thanks for your detailed comment.


    I have often heard it said that we should try to write the way we speak, only better. I think that's good advice for semi-formal pieces. The semi-formal style is what we use in most business relationships or work-related activities. So your emails, articles, reports, etc. will be written in the semi-formal style. The two most useful pieces of advice I give is to read good material every day (from reputable media outlets or business/industry magazines) and to keep writing to improve your business writing skills. I have written articles about improving your writing on this blog. If your work environment does not produce opportunities to write, then you’d need to deliberately look for opportunities that force you to write. Fortunately, that’s not your concern.


    Knowing what to improve on regarding your written communication is the first step to fixing the problem, so you're on the right track.


    I agree that bullet points are particularly useful. Not only do they force you to be concise, they draw the reader to crucial pieces of information that would be lost when the reader scans or skims through the content (which is the norm these days). However, I’d advise that bullet points be brief. As often as you can manage, they should not be longer than three lines of key information, e.g. of facts and figures. The longer the bullet point, the less effective it actually becomes. If, because of your technical writing, you are required to provide an explanation longer than three lines, it’s better to use sub-headings instead.


    If you continue to practise trimming your writing, you’d find out that you’re churning out really clear pieces, even if you’re covering complex topics. Einstein was on to something when he challenged us to try to explain whatever idea to a six-year-old.


    Good luck!

    ReplyDelete
  3. Joe Collison (via LSE Alumni - Official Group on LinkedIn)9 May 2017 at 06:36

    Excellent piece, very informative. Thank you!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Joe for reading. Glad you found it useful.

      Delete

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