How and Why to Become More Concise When Speaking
Concise speaking is a frequent challenge I see with clients and students.
Concision is hard because professionals have lots of information to convey in a very limited time.
Important decision-makers are usually very short on time, and have a limited attention span. You have to get your point across quickly and efficiently.
Another reason it’s tough to be concise is more psychological: nervousness.
You might be nervous in front of an important client, a huge audience, or your Vice President. When you’re nervous, you speak faster and your ideas are more disorganized.
A nervous, disorganized speaker might take 100 words to express what a calm and focused speaker can say in 20.
The good news is that concise speaking is a skill that can be learned and improved.
If you have a hard time with concision, there are some simple strategies you can use to improve.
Why Should You Be More Concise When Speaking?
Concise speaking makes a huge difference in the quality of your presentations. The benefits include:
1. Focusing the audience. When you give your audience too much information, you make it harder for them to know what is most important. But when you speak concisely, with fewer words, the audience has an easier time separating the wheat from the chaff. You can manage their attention and focus better.
2. Memorability. It is fundamentally easier to remember a simple message than a complicated one.
3. Persuasiveness. Concise speaking increases process fluency, or how easy it is for the brain to process a message. Studies have found that when messages are easier to process, they are more likely to be seen as true.
4. Efficiency. A small number of words can be delivered in a shorter amount of time than a large number of words. Efficient communication is prized and appreciated by all audiences. It shows the speaker respects their time. And it allows everyone to be more productive.
5. Speaking slower. If your message can be expressed in fewer words, you have the freedom to speak slower in the same amount of time. Speaking slowly has numerous benefits, including the ability to put more emphasis and emotional expression on your words.
6. Professionalism and competence. A presenter who needs to take 500 words to express what another can say in 120 words demonstrates a lack of expertise, and a lack of familiarity with their subject-matter. Concision in communication indicates that the speaker has so much familiarity with the topic that they have developed mental shortcuts and patterns to fully understand it.
“The definition of genius is taking the complex and making it simple.”
How Can You Speak More Concisely?
Here are two simple ways to get more concise in your speaking. Both are for building spontaneous concision: the kind you use in free-flowing meetings, Q&As after presentations, and on-the-fly interactions with decision makers.
1. The Read and Speak Exercise
Read a news article or report related to your industry. Then give a short summary on what you just read. Either time yourself or have a friend time you.
Depending on how concise you are trying to be, you can shoot for 10 seconds, 15 seconds, 30 seconds, 60 seconds, or another length of time.
You do well if you can speak coherently while including all important information from the article, within the time limit.
It’s important that you use a new article each time you repeat this exercise–something you have never seen before. You want to train your ability to quickly process and speak about new information.
If you use an article you have already read multiple times, or are very familiar with, then you are not forcing your brain to process information and form words quickly.
2. The Listen and Speak Exercise
Have a friend or colleague (or a coach) pepper you with a series of questions or statements. Your job is to answer or respond to each, in turn, within 10 seconds, 30 seconds, or 60 seconds.
Your partner’s questions or statements should be novel and unexpected, preventing you from planning ahead of time.
Again, you must form complete sentences and cover all of the important points about each topic.
Remember, for both exercises, your sentences don’t have to be grammatically perfect. Sometimes using bullet points or fragments is the best way to quickly convey information.
The first exercise is for training recall and quickly processing reading material. And the second exercise is more focused on conversational/ social reaction time.
The more you repeat these exercises, the better you will get.