I’ll be brief. Technology is ruining our attention span. Add to that the flotsam and jetsam of everyday To Do lists and you have a distracted audience on your hands. Then you get up there and go on and on about the what and the why and the how – just like your English teacher taught you to do (for the purposes of a letter grade and a future).

If you could float up and out of your body for a moment and hover on the ceiling to look down at your audience, you would see what I saw in the classroom of a McArthur Genius Award winner:  30% of audience members texting, 30% checking their calendar, 20% shopping on Zappo’s, and the remaining 20% giving you their rapt attention.  If that’s the best that the best-and-brightest can do, what hope do the rest of us have?!

Let’s stop the madness. The simple trick is brevity. Simple, but not easy. The average speaker can get in the weeds quickly and some never come out. Just to be clear, we are talking here about the concise and exact use of words; the quality of being brief in duration. The only way to accomplish this “state of being” is to prepare, revise, practice, revise, practice, and revise.

Ready? Here’s a quick and easy tool to help you deliver a concise, pithy and succinct presentation – whether it’s the annual shareholder keynote or a holiday toast.  It’s our Thanksgivukka gift to you. Enjoy!

Step 1:  Decide on your purpose and your key messages. You may need to do the Brevity Funnel“post-it note” activity in which you write down all the possible message points, stick them up on a wall, stare at them, and then shuffle them into categories until you whittle the list down to the vital few. Remember that you can only do this with precision if you have a clear sense of who will be in the room. Spend time analyzing your audience before you turn your attention to content.

Step 2:  We recommend using your computer for this step, even if you love to write your thoughts in longhand in your favorite notebook. The beauty of this activity is you can look at the bottom toolbar for your word count. Keep in mind that the average audience listens best when the speaker’s pace is approximately 145 words per minute. Do the math: if you have 10 minutes to speak and your word count is 2,375 then, “Molly, you in danger girl.” No chance of brevity. None. Pare it down until your document is within the magic number and move on to the next step.

Step 3:  Now it’s time to say the words out loud. The most effective practice round is with your iPad or some other recording device that allows instantaneous playback with a timer. (Charlotte and I have a lot of fun with our roadside assistance videos – the taping of them, and the retaping, and the laughing, and the groaning…) Once you’ve finished your first run-though on camera, check the timer. Did you finish in time? Did you get your key messages across? If the answer is no, chances are you have too many words in each sentence. Get rid of all the filler words for the first and most important edit:  um, ah, ya know, right, actually, basically, kind of, I think, sort of, like and so.

Step 4:  Now comes the fun part. Can you convey your key message in a 30-second window? Try it. Then try it again. They try saying it a different way. This round is worth several run-throughs. It really helps you gain clarity and raises the likelihood of speaking with conviction in real time.

Step 5:  If I went whizzing by you on my bicycle, could you get your point across before I was out of earshot? Give it a whirl! One of my coaching clients came up with three great words to summarize his presentation on email etiquette that was to be delivered to the executive team. The purpose was to recommend ways to decrease the sheer volume of useless emails by cracking down on “reply all,” etc.  His three words were: Productivity beats overwhelm.  Pretty good, huh?

Truth be told, some topics may need four words, or five – just keep it to one very short sentence.

Now you’re ready to wow your audience with your content and gain their everlasting gratitude as well.

Word count of this post: 745…I can do better!

– Barbara

Barbara Roche