In this era of communication at our fingertips, social media with limited characters, and short, 80,000-word books, it’s imperative to make a point quickly, succinctly and with maximum impact.
Our “lizard” brains are impatient: if we don’t capture another’s attention within a short period of time, we’ve lost our ability to make the case. This relatively short attention span has been further compounded by the pandemic era in which we live. Many are dealing with the stress of uncertainty, which results in further reducing one’s attention span.
All of us have sat through face-to-face meetings, presentations and in this era of ubiquitous virtual meetings, communications that drag on, miss the point (what was it anyway?) and result in disengaged listening and hearing. This can be frustrating under all situations; however, when it’s work-related, it can lead to loss of productivity, motivation, and, failing to deliver what was desired.
Thus, in order to have the impact or sought, following the adage “less is more,” is the trick, but how to do it?
How to’s for ensuring less is more:
- Be strategic. Clearly define the goal is to be achieved before you start communicating. Plan the communication, by listing all of the bullet points to be made in furtherance of achieving the overarching goal, and then paring them down to the bare minimum for results desired and impact.
- Practice. Once the final bullet points are listed, practice saying them first and tweak where needed. Practice the communication in your head, or out loud, or in front of someone else. Ask yourself: Was it natural? Was it comfortable? did you make the points; and, did it have the impact you desired? Time the communication to ensure it is brief. Remember the lizard brain.
- Check for understanding. If the communication was practiced in front of someone else, ask for feedback “what was I trying to say?” If the point was missed, modify and try again.
- Leave time for Q&A. If the communication is a presentation, be brief and leave time for Q&A: Generally, an audience learns and retains more when they are engaged and there is an emotional impact, a la “wow, that happens to me, too.” Describe the main points and conserve much of the time for Q&A. Some of the best dialogue and most impactful learning takes place with the interchange between the speaker and the audience.
Putting the how to’s into action: Practice what you preach
I’ve served on the founding board of a child care center where the husband-and-wife co-directors are set to retire. With countless lives touched, a thank-you video was prepared made with the request “no more than one minute.” Here’s how I put the above steps into action:
- Be strategic. The overarching goal was to honor and thank the co-directors for their collective leadership in taking the small – four rooms – child care center into a nationally recognized and honored state-of-the-art quality operation whose model is followed by many. Since several people were asked to contribute to the video, my role was describing the early days. My first list of bullets numbered 16. When I reread them, there was too much “me” in them, e.g., points about my own involvement, when the purpose was to focus on them. I reread the bullets, and pared them down to nine.
- Practice. Done — first in my head, and then in front of the mirror. After the third round in front of the mirror, I timed it and it came in well under a minute – 28 seconds, to be exact.
- Check for understanding. To ensure the points were made, I called my youngest and asked her to listen. Her feedback was twofold: “too fast, Mom,” and the transitions from point to point were abrupt. I added a few words between points, so the transitions were smooth, and I slowed down. My final practice run was 50 seconds — still under a minute.
- Leave time for Q&A. Although the video presentation was not a presentation or talk in a traditional manner, thus no Q&A, I did time it and, hopefully, kept them wanting more.
Adopt the adage “less is more” when communicating for maximum impact:
- Be strategic. List the points to be made to achieve the goal, and then pare them down to the essentials.
- Practice. Practice in your head, out loud, or in front of another person, and time it.
- Check for understanding. If you practiced in front of someone, take the feedback and tweak again, if needed.
- Leave time for Q&A. When giving a talk, make the points and allow time for questions. Time your speech and use less time than allotted to allow for Q&A.
You can do it!
Diana Peterson-More, employment lawyer, corporate officer and consultant left a Fortune 200 to launch Organizational Effectiveness Group LLC. Her company focuses on aligning people with organizational purpose and strategy. She is the best-selling author of “Consequential Communication in Turbulent Times” and is a sought-after coach, facilitator and speaker.