Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Too clever by half

Right-sizing. It is something we all need to do whenever we speak publicly. It is also easier said than done.

Many of us fill up more time saying what we mean than we should. Often this is because we have failed to carefully plan what we need to say and end up just spouting what we want to say. Listeners notice. I was at an "intimate meet and greet" for a political candidate recently and noted that I was not the only one checking my watch as the second, then third, speaker went on... and on.... The crowd grew restless, but as it was mostly a group of older (baby-boomer) supporters, we were all polite and listened. Though we did shuffle. And glance longingly at the bar and buffet!

The speech was, for the most part, a list of good things this candidate had done for us. But we didn't need a laundry list or a litany. We had already been inundated with mailers -- real and electronic -- that had a sizable accumulation of facts. And if we hadn't managed to read those, we could surely visit the website. We came to "meet" the candidate because we wanted to get to "know" him: the person, not the policy. We wanted to be spoken to, not talked at. Maybe have our questions answered, or spend some time engaging with him in small group conversation. Really, the last thing you should do in front of people you want money from is bore them. The longer a speaker drones on, listing his accomplishments, the more we disengage, even if we have benefitted from those accomplishments.

This applies to all of us. When we know we will be asked to present, to speak, even to report, we need to boil our message down to its essentials. Be succinct: "short, sweet, and to the point" as one of my clients says. She should know: as a teacher she learned long ago how to engage a captive audience. Take a page from the playbook of expert artists who know when to put the paintbrush down. Listen to Konstantin Stanislavski, who told his actors at the dawn of 20th century Moscow, "Less is more." And to the 17th century Frenchman, Blaise Pascal, who ended one of his Lettres provinciales (Provincial letters) with " I would have written a shorter letter but I did not have the time."

You get my drift. 'nuff said.

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