speaking conciselyYou probably know somebody who’s prone to answer a simple question with a long, exhaustive, round-about reply.

It’s even possible that you are that person who’s prone to answer a simple question with a long, exhaustive, round-about reply.

Some individuals are blissfully unaware that they’re putting us to sleep. They yak on without even realizing that no one is listening anymore. But a lot of chatterboxes know exactly what their problem is. They just don’t know how to fix it.

When I work with clients who want to be better speakers, they often ask for help being more concise. Or eliminating over-talking. Or as one woman memorably put it, “I need to shut the hell up.”

Those astute individuals have plenty of company. You know this because just the other day, your attention was drifting away as somebody went on and on and on…

Here are some tips for trimming the blah-blah. (If you don’t need them yourself, pass them on to someone who does.)

  • Start with the end in mind. Pause for a moment and consider – what is your point in talking about this? Are you trying to convey information? Make a sale? Get a laugh? Let someone know that you can relate to their situation?
  • Keep your audience in mind. Who are you talking to? And what do they care about? (Hint: it’s probably their own story, not yours.)
  • Once you know the outcome you want, you know what information you need to include. You also know what can be edited out.
  • Your best friend and your mother might be interested in exactly what happened, when and how. For the rest of us, the exact time and sequence of events rarely matters. We may not need to know the complete cast of characters. And the back-story probably isn’t necessary.
  • Imagine yourself as a news announcer. When I was on the radio, I learned to tell even the most important stories in 25 seconds, with room at the end to say, “Catherine Johns, WLS News.” It’s amazing what you can leave out and still give someone the information they really need.
  • Let us ask for more detail if we want it. Especially in a business conversation, you’re much better served by a dialogue than a monologue anyway. Say just enough to grab their attention, then wait for an expression of interest before you add to it.
  • Think Threes. There’s a reason it’s always “Three guys walked into a bar.” Or “three little pigs.” Or “a rabbi, a minister and a priest …” There’s just something magical about the Format of Three.
Problem – Action – Result. What it was like – what happened – what it’s like now. Set-up – Body – Conclusion. You may be surprised at the impact you can have in three sentences.
  • Remember that your story is more important to you than to anyone else. Especially when we talk about big, life-changing events, we tend to dwell on details that don’t mean much to anyone but us. Our talk will be much more effective if we strip out some of the unnecessary verbiage.
  • Keep your audience in mind. (Yes, I know, I said that already. It’s worth repeating.) You’ve seen this, I know: one person yak-yak-yakking and the other one looking away, fidgeting, inching farther and farther from the speaker. Pay attention to the feedback you’re getting.
When someone leans in with their eyebrows up, they’re probably eager to hear more. When you see the body language of boredom, you know it’s time to zip it. Better yet, ask the other person a question and listen.

Try it out for yourself. See what response you get when you’re more concise in your conversations. Notice your own reaction when other people yammer too much.

And please comment below to share your observations.