In the fall of 2018 received coaching from a highly experienced facilitator. After he observed my delivery, I expected him to give me feedback on my teaching style. However, he didn’t address my style but rather the time it took me to deliver the material. Confused, I listened to his instruction, which would forever change the way I approached communication.
He challenged me to facilitate the same session again in half the time—not by speaking faster but by embracing an economy of words. I stumbled through the next round, trying to convey my message while keeping an eye on the clock.
Although I didn’t succeed in teaching the session in half the time, the experience left me with a profound appreciation for the power of brevity.
This newfound awareness compelled me to pay closer attention to how others communicated. It was both enlightening and, at times, painful to witness public speakers who rambled on and on, failing to “land the plane.” In these moments, I discovered three fundamental truths about effective communication: the brilliance of brevity, the confidence of conviction, and the humility to stand in silence.
The Brilliance of Brevity
The brilliance of brevity lies in its ability to convey thoughts and emotions using the fewest and most precise words possible. This can be challenging, especially when speaking to an audience. As a teacher, I often find myself tempted to include stories to illustrate my points. While this can be effective in forging connections, it’s crucial to avoid following tangents, adding in anecdotes, and losing sight of the intended message.
Like all communication, a story is more powerful when the message is clear. What was at stake? What was the conflict? What’s the big idea? Learning how to tell powerful stories that connect learners to the content is a valuable skill and one that we can improve when we focus on brevity.
I often think of this quote attributed to Mark Twain, “I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.” Brevity is more work. It requires us to zero in on the key point we want to make and stay focused.
The Confidence of Conviction
Confidence is closely intertwined with brevity. At the headquarters of news outlet Axios, a sign boldly states, “Brevity is confidence. Length is fear.” Using the economy of words process compels me to evaluate my thoughts and feelings, asking whether I’m confident enough to express my message concisely. Longer doesn’t mean better.
Conviction can be found in preparation. What is the point of the exercise I am leading? What skill do I want learners to build? If I understand not only the content but also the intent of the material I am presenting, I can be bold in my delivery.
The Humility to Stand in Silence
Humility is often misunderstood. I was raised with the understanding that to be humble was to be self-deprecating. I have come to understand that true humility is the partner of confidence. I need to be confident enough to express my thoughts with brevity, and humble enough to be still and listen to others share their views.
As facilitators and thought leaders, we may be tempted to fill silences during training sessions, interjecting more words when faced with awkward pauses. We must resist this impulse. When we stand in that beautiful space of confidence and humility, we make it safe for others to do the same.
I continue to work on my ability to be concise. In written form this requires work but is aided by word-counting technology. We can easily keep track of how many words we have used and delete or rewrite as needed. For those of us honored with the job of leading participants through life-changing training, this chore is a little more challenging but can be accomplished in powerful ways.
We embrace the power of brevity when we choose the one thing we want to say, say it with conviction, and stand in a state of humility by embracing moments of silence.