Short and sweet

Most politicians talk too much. But not the 30th president of the United States. Calvin Coolidge, president from 1923 to 1929, was known as Silent Cal. Coolidge’s reputation for brevity was well-deserved.

A woman once came up to him and said:

‘Mr. President, I bet my husband that I could get you to say more than two words.’

‘You lose,’ Coolidge replied.

Silent Cal may have taken matters too far in his search for conciseness, but he was right about one thing: A great way to improve your impact as a communicator is to be brief. Less is more!

  1. Shorter is more digestible: Good communication has a lot in common with healthy eating. Both require you to find the right measure. You want your audience to leave the table feeling satisfied, but not bloated. Overly long interventions lead directly to communicative indigestion, a terminal condition that begins with incomprehension and ends with boredom and death. How long is long enough? Always remember to make sure you have finished speaking before your audience has finished listening.
  2. Shorter is more decisive: Don’t be afraid to finish early. If you’re scheduled to speak for 20 minutes, but can say what you want to say in ten, finish in ten! Likewise, don’t write a four-page report if you can do it in one. It takes confidence and leadership qualities to do this. And if done appropriately, it will help you stand out from the crowd and look more incisive and decisive.
  3. Shorter is more memorable: Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg address – the one about “government of the people, by the people, for the people” – is often cited as one of history’s great speeches. It’s also one of history’s shortest speeches. How short? It runs 272 words and took about three minutes to deliver. Lincoln’s address followed a two-hour peroration by Edward Everett, a well-known US orator of the time. No prizes for guessing which one is best remembered today!

And just to prove it, here’s a story Ronald Reagan used to tell about a very short sermon he witnessed as a boy in Dixon, Illinois. It was the hottest day of the year and sweat was dripping from everyone in the church. When it came time for the sermon, the preacher took his position at the pulpit and faced the congregation. He pointed downward and said: ‘It’s even hotter down there in Hell’. And without another word, he descended from the pulpit. That was his sermon!

Digestible, decisive and memorable. Amen! (418 words – the shortest In Form article ever! Amen again!)