“Cut, refine, reorder ruthlessly. Be merciless.”
In 2015, Microsoft Corp. carried out a study revealing that people now generally lose concentration after eight seconds, a drop from 12 seconds, highlighting the effects of an increasingly digitalised lifestyle on the brain. That means our attention span is now worse than of a gold fish. On the positive side, the report says our ability to multitask has drastically improved in the mobile age.
On a related subject, the study also confirmed generational differences for mobile use: for example, 77% of people aged 18 to 24 responded “yes” when asked, “When nothing is occupying my attention, the first thing I do is reach for my phone”, compared with only 10% of those over the age of 65. Having said that, mobile technologies have become an integral part of our lives.
I, probably like you, receive hundreds of emails every week, participate in many meetings, conference calls and other types of engagements each month. I’ve noticed, as the years have gone by, that if the messages I receive are not crisp and to the point, they totally lose me in a few seconds. In the age of information overload I find I simply can’t waste precious time on long-winded, repetitive, time-consuming emails that keep me from more pressing work that must be accomplished that day.
The title of this article comes from the book by Joe McCormack: Brief: Make a Bigger Impact By Saying Less, who claims that the only way to survive in business today is to be a lean communicator. The unspoken expectation is that successful professionals can manage rapidly shrinking attention spans and accommodate the constant interruptions that fill their overloaded days. Opposite is true, actually. Busy executives expect you to respect and manage their time much more effectively and efficiently than ever. According to the book, an average professional receives 304 emails per week and checks his/her smartphones 36 times an hour.
Joe introduces the so-called B.R.I.E.F approach which stands for Background, Relevance, Information, Ending, and Follow up and contributes to simplifying and clarifying complex communication. B.R.I.E.F helps you summarise lengthy information, tell a short story, harness the power of infographics and videos, and turn monologue presentations into controlled conversations.
People nowadays get impatient and annoyed when they receive communication they feel doesn’t respect their time, is careless and they ‘fight back’ by unresponsiveness, decision delays, harsh feedback and even criticism. So, why do we write more than necessary? What is the cause of not being clear and concise? Is this something we can improve?
Yes, we definitely can. If you wish to deliver a tighter message, here are a few tips for you to consider:
Think about what the story, the key message is. Make a visual outline of what you wish to say if it helps your thought process, but at the same time of what is absolutely essential. Give some consideration to your objectives, i.e. what you wish to achieve with your message – is your message a call to action? Is it only for awareness? Does it complement what you’ve already communicated?
Tell the story as a concise narrative that explains the who, what, where, when and why. Make the complex simple – if you’re having trouble distilling complex thoughts and strategies into simple and memorable terms which others can grasp and act upon, it may mean you don’t thoroughly understand it. Say what you mean in as few words as possible while keeping the message meaningful.
Cut, refine, reorder ruthlessly. Be merciless. Never assume any communication is finished immediately after you create it. Review it, refine the point, order a core message, cut out what’s not needed, review it multiple times to ensure the message is succinct and clear, which in turn translates into ease of consumption.
Since 65% of people are visual learners according to the Social Science Research Network, one of the best ways to drive the message home is through visual content. Visual communication saves time and its use continues to grow. Apparently, 84% of all marketing communication is predicted to be visual by 2018. A study by Adobe revealed that Facebook posts which include images produce 650% higher engagement than regular text posts. It may not be always possible to use visuals but where it is, for example in presentations, go for it, the impact of your delivery will be greater.
In general, my advice here is to avoid falling in love with your words as words are only good if they add meaning to your copy – remember, writing less can mean saying more without losing content quality. There is a famous quote attributed to Blaise Pascal, philosopher and mathematician of the 17th century: “If I had more time, I would have written a shorter letter.” The quote reflects both the value and the challenges of brevity. Crafting a meaningful, accurate and concise message takes time and can be hard. Take Twitter, for example, and how much thought you sometimes have to put into producing a coherent and meaningful tweet, although I would not recommend to try to be as brief as 140 characters in your work communication.
Brevity, clarity and focus are essential in modern communications and have now become part of the key skills in business that we need to embrace and improve to be able to make the desired impact with messages we wish to get across.
By Tereza Urbánková
Tereza Urbánková is a PR, communications and marketing professional with over 18 years’ experience and proven success in delivering award-winning communications programmes for multinational companies operating in industries such as hospitality, retail, IT, defence, broadcast, logistics and engineering. She lives and works in London, UK; currently, she is Head of Corporate Communications for Amec Foster Wheeler plc, a large international engineering and project management company. Tereza also works as a freelance communications and PR consultant. She is a member of the Executive Committee of the Czech British Chamber of Commerce in the UK and a member of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations. She speaks Czech, English, Spanish and Russian and can be reached on firstname.lastname@example.org or through her LinkedIn profile.