I have saved a good many Mark Twain quotes. This quote about the importance of brevity is not the last quote from him that you will see in my posts!
Few sinners are saved after the first twenty minutes of a sermon. Mark Twain
While Mr. Twain was commenting on his perception of the attention span of church-going people, the principle also applies to many other situations. Think about speeches or business presentations that last so long that they exceed the attention span of the audience.
The need for brevity applies to most forms of written communication. Our work with college students often requires that we send emails or texts. When our texts or emails are long, our college students (and even older coaching clients!) often only read a small portion of what we write.
In fact, we make a special effort to make texts – and even emails – short. When we need to write a long email, we often follow up with a short text that says something like this: “Please make some time before our coaching session tomorrow to read the detailed email that I just sent.”
The Paradox of Brevity for Writers
French physicist and writer Blaise Pascal is one of several people credited with slight variations of this quote:
I would have sent you a shorter letter, but I didn’t have time. Blaise Pascal
This quote acknowledges that it is often quicker to write more words than are necessary. Editors who work for newspapers or book publishers often spend most of their time shortening someone else’s drafts.
Given enough time, we can almost always write less, rather than more. But, at some point, we have to stop editing and send what we have written!
Reflections About Brevity
- How would you rate yourself when it comes to verbal communications? Do you tend to give too many details or just enough?
- Do you tend to over-explain things or give ten reasons for doing something when two or three would be sufficient?
- How about when you are composing an email or text? Do you tend to write “just enough,” or do you need to be more concise?
- How do you know when your presentation, report, or email is too long to have the impact that you were hoping to achieve?
We would love to hear your comments (below) about this article – even if they are not brief!
And if you want to work on brevity or other communication skills, please contact us for a complimentary consultation to find out if our coaching services are a good fit for you.