In a blog and twitter infected world, you would think that we have all learned to be brief. A never-ending parade of 50 slide ppt decks, run-on emails, and hour-plus lectures reminds me that we haven’t. It’s hard to get to the point.
If you’re guilty of long emails or verbose marketing copy, remember the famous line from philosopher Blaise Pascal:
Je n’ai fait celle-ci plus longue que parceque je n’ai pas eu le loisir de la faire plus courte.
I have only made this letter rather long because I have not had time to make it shorter.
— Lettres provinciales XVI, 1656
Most people think this quote was from Mark Twain. Did you?
If you like 45-minute keynotes or two-hour meetings, you might consider this recommendation from Franklin D. Roosevelt to his son James on how to make a public speech:
Be sincere, be brief, be seated.
— Basic Public Speaking, page 12, 1963
TED talks are limited to 18 minutes with public countdown timers. Yet they consistently rank as some of the best of our time because they force the speakers to tell a single, simple story.
Sales representatives love to joke how junior associates continue to present long after the prospect is convinced because “they still have slides to show.” In sales, this is called selling past the close.
A Jan 1901 NY Times story provides the classic example from Mark Twain:
Some years ago in Hartford, we all went to church on a hot, sweltering night to hear the annual report from Mr. Hawley, a city missionary who went around finding the people who needed help and didn’t want to ask for it. He told of the life in the cellars where poverty resided, he gave instances of the heroism and devotion of the poor. […]
Well, Hawley worked me up to a great state. I couldn’t wait for him to get through. I had $400 in my pocket. I wanted to give that and borrow more to give. You could see greenbacks in every eye. But he didn’t pass the plate, and it grew hotter and we grew sleepier. My enthusiasm went down, down, down – $100 a time, until when the plate finally came around, I stole 10 cents out of it.
Be brief. Ask for the order. Avoid a crime.