Yep, that’s it.
For many years I’ve taught professional writing seminars in addition to my career speeches and workshops. In these programs, “Be more concise” is the advice I find myself dispensing more than any other.
Even in our world of 140-charater tweets, 160-character texts and txt msg spk, most people make the mistake of talking and writing way more than is necessary.
Here are some reasons why conciseness is so important, particularly in the workplace:
- People are busy and have short attention spans. Being more concise shows that you respect other people’s time.
- The more information you provide, the less likely someone is to remember it all.
- One perfectly chosen word is worth a dozen less impactful words. As a writing teacher of mine used to use as an example, Which is more powerful: “Lindsey cried really, really hard because she was incredibly sad” or “Lindsey wept”?
- When you talk too much or write very long emails, even if they are beautifully crafted and grammatically flawless, you actually appear less professional to your colleagues. Why? People assume you can’t edit your thoughts or that you’re trying to show off. Or, if you’re a recent grad, you appear to be writing and speaking like you’re still in college and trying to meet a minimum word requirement. (Note: ignore this bullet point if you work in the legal industry, academia or another field where long sentences and paragraphs are the required standard.)
- You become more organized and clear in your own thoughts. Being concise forces you to have a clear understanding of what it is that you’re trying to say. The result is that you are more prepared mentally for whatever next steps are required.
Here are three ways to be more concise right now:
- Cut the preambles. There is no need to begin an email or conversation with “It has come to my attention that…” or “I know you are really busy, but…” A short, polite greeting is great, but don’t dilute your message by adding an unnecessary introduction. Some better introductions are “As requested…,” “As discussed…” and “Below please find…”
The worst example of a long and unnecessary preamble came in an email I once received from an intern who attended one of my workshops: She wrote, “I know you said in your workshop not to write long emails, so I apologize in advance that this is going to be a long email, but…”
What a way to turn off your reader!
- Use more bullet points. Yes, some thoughts need to be expressed in formal sentences, but this is not often the case in the workplace. Your reader or listener (of an email, memo or presentation) will be more likely to remember your points when you shorten them into memorable snippets. Remember that your goal is to communicate, not to write the Great American Novel.z
- Edit every email message you send. Before I click send on any message, I always go back and read through it to see what I can cut out. This includes shortening sentences, cutting long paragraphs into two shorter paragraphs and eliminating unnecessary information. If this sounds like too much work, then start by editing your most important emails. I predict that the results will be so good that you’ll start to edit all of your messages.
By no means am I advising that you be rude or curt; the goal is to cut out the fat. You know that feeling of dread when you open an email and see that it is pages long and super dense? Don’t give that feeling to anyone else.
My workshop attendees who apply these three simple tactics frequently report back about the immediate positive results they achieve. The more concise they are in their written and spoken communications, the faster they receive replies, the less follow-up they have to do and the more work they can accomplish. My conclusion? The shorter your communications, the longer your career success!