I bet you’ve never heard of Edward Everett.
Don't worry if you haven't. I hadn’t heard of him until I became a student of presentation effectiveness. Chances are that your neighbors, friends, and colleagues haven't heard of him either.
Edward Everett was a popular orator during the 19th century. His most famous address was given at an event we all learned about in history class…the dedication of the Civil War Cemetery at Gettysburg.
On that afternoon, Everett's keynote speech lasted over two hours. When he finished, a man who had been invited to make a few “closing remarks” stood up and spoke for two minutes. That man was Abraham Lincoln and his closing remarks are now known the Gettysburg Address.
It's not that Everett's speech wasn't good (in fact, Lincoln later complimented him on it)…but it was long, complicated, and heavily detailed. Lincoln's speech was short, simple, and to the point. Everett later wrote Lincoln saying, “I should be glad if I could flatter myself that I came as near to the central idea of the occasion, in two hours, as you did in two minutes.”
Almost 150 years later, few have heard of Everett…and Lincoln's speech has gone down as one of the greatest in human history.
Meetings, speeches and presentations of “high importance” are given daily and mostly forgotten the next day. We live through countless daily information blasts, and unless the communications we receive from others are short and simple, we often don't remember much (which is why it's no accident that this weekly article is rarely more than 500 words).
Think of how much you dread listening to long training seminars, extended presentations and day-long meetings. The sad truth is that many of these daunting communications remain mostly unprocessed and are quickly forgotten by those who participated. Do you remember the major points of last month's staff meeting?
This week, take action to make your communications concise. Draft an e-mail and then see if you can say the same thing by cutting out 50% of the text. Prepare a talk and then challenge yourself to trim the fluff. Cut the hour-long conversation with a colleague to 20 minutes and see if they more actually remember what you discussed later in the week.
Not only will you be working more effectively, your communications will more likely be remembered by those you wish to influence.
What has worked for you in keeping things concise? Share your ideas in the comments below.