28 November 2018
The art of brevity is admired by many, used by some and destroyed by those who find it impossible to get to the point.
You may not regard advertising as art, but the people who work in this industry have got the whole brevity thing sewn up. Talented teams of creatives develop imaginative commercial campaigns that tell a story and persuade people to buy a product, try a new service or appreciate a brand’s USP, and they do it fast, usually within 30 seconds, in a couple of succinct paragraphs or a headline on a billboard. They communicate economically and with style, making sure the key message hits home. If Sir Winston Churchill had decided to take up a career in advertising instead of politics, he’d have been a natural. He was the master of brevity and avoided jargon, legalese and the use of formal or archaic phrases like the plague. In August 1940 during the Battle of Britain and weeks before the Blitz, he issued these instructions to the War Cabinet on the importance of cutting to the chase: “To do our work, we all have to read a mass of papers. Nearly all of them are far too long. This wastes time, while energy has to be spent in looking for the essential points.” He said they should use “short, crisp paragraphs” and an “Aide-mèmoire consisting of headings only” adding, “But the saving in time will be great, while the discipline of setting out the real points concisely will prove an aid to clearer thinking.” Twitter would have been right up his street; with only 280 characters to play with you cannot pad, ramble or go off topic.
So why is it that some of us find it difficult to adopt the techniques so successfully used in advertising and by Sir Winston Churchill in our everyday communications? All too often what we write and say are subject to as much personal interpretation as a set of Ikea flatpack instructions (sorry Ikea). The key message is often hidden under so many layers of qualifying statements, data and waffle, it doesn’t reach its target, nothing moves on and it’s wasted everyone’s time. Good business communicators make things happen because they have the ability to distil their arguments, thoughts or propositions into a set of razor-sharp bullet points, delivered in writing or orally and, when this is done in a manner that is engaging, then staff, customers and suppliers not only understand, they feel involved, they buy-in.
You may not think everyone can be a great communicator, and while it helps to have charisma, stage presence and a voice like Joanna Lumley or Charles Dance, if you put in the work in advance to truly understand your audience, know what arguments you want to make, what outcomes you need for the business and how you’re going to express them, you can be. In our latest Nordens TV show Mitch Hahn has been exploring the Power of Explanation and how it can improve understanding and, ultimately, productivity. Please click here if you’d like to know more.