You don’t say (real-world lessons in brevity and clarity)

You don’t say (real-world lessons in brevity and clarity)
August 28, 2016 Beth Nyland

Hey, business person. Yeah, you. The one who keeps putting words on the page, every freaking day. You create a lot of messages. Emails, presentations, reports, posts, requests, responses, and who-knows-what-else. They sound so important, with their long words, complex sentence structures, and hefty paragraphs.

But you know what? We don’t understand you. Actually, most of us aren’t even trying to get your drift. So much language is so much trouble. We see your weighty words, and we want to look away. Maybe we skim. More likely, we guess. Most likely, we delete.

The result?

You don’t get results.

No doubt, your message matters to you. That’s why you spend so much time inflating and complicating the words. But if you want that message to matter to us, you’ve got to say it like you mean it.

Instead of obscuring your meaning in a mess of words, reveal it in its simplest form.

Do you need a model for simple, clear communication? Think about the words you say—and don’t say—away from work, where you’re less likely to overthink and overcomplicate a message.

In teachable moments

When teaching life skills to children, you simplify the instructions down to their very essence.

You don’t say: Refrain from seizing the caudal appendage of our domestic feline companion.

You do say: Don’t pull the cat’s tail.

In crisis situations

In emergencies, where life or safety is at stake, you get right to it.

You don’t say: That individual is wielding a device that may explosively propel small missiles in your direction.

You do say: He’s got a gun!

In competitive sports

When the game is on, you save time and get results in short order.

You don’t say: I am capable, available, and eager to participate, and the path between us is clear of obstructions.

You do say: I’m open!

Clarity and brevity get results.

At work, you communicate for a lot of the same reasons—and with similar target audiences—as in these real-world examples.

You want to be understood and get things done …

… but your target audience has a short attention span and limited knowledge of your subject matter. Maybe they’re new, or just struggling with the pace of change. Maybe they’re so entrenched in their own challenges, everything off-topic feels like foreign language. If what they need is a little guidance, then shouldn’t you give them messages that instruct—like in a teachable moment?

You don’t say: Implementing the ABC application requires prior adoption of our proprietary solutions platform, the XYZ operating system.

You do say: Step 1. Install the XYZ operating system. Step 2: Download the ABC app.

You want to attract attention and create a sense of urgency …

… but your target audience is already embroiled in crises of its own. They barely have time to check email, much less chat with experts or change their plans. If they’re behaving in hair-on-fire mode, then shouldn’t you adapt your messages to get their attention—like in a crisis situation?

You don’t say: From the moment you purchase the LMNO product, you will discover business-enhancing results, regardless of the other tools your enterprise may have already implemented. LMNO optimizes performance by providing intuitive products that integrate seamlessly with your existing business ecosystem.

You do say: Buy LMNO today. You can use it now, with any equipment.

You want to get action and win hearts/minds/sales …

… but your target audience is pressed for time and dealing with pressures from all sides. Their days are a jumble of commitments, expectations, and deadlines. They’re trying to please multiple masters, from the boss to the budget to the bills at home. If they’re battling so many competing forces, then shouldn’t you deliver messages that make it easy for them to win—like in competitive sports?

You don’t say: While time-to-market is essential to the success of any new product launch, we believe companies do well to also select a firm that can deliver the most innovative possible solution. Additionally, clients value the benefit of a pleasant working relationship. All of these advantages can be yours, should you select QRS Partners as your vendor.

You do say: Choose QRS Partners. We’re fast. We’re creative. We’re fun.

What am I really trying to say?

I don’t say: Perplexing the constituents of the target market for your communication is not a sustainable option for your success. Authoring messages that go unnoticed is also undesirable. The utmost importance of your communications is without question. You would be wise to transform your messages from their current state of length and complexity. Rather, express your information as if you sincerely believe in its essence.

I do say: You can’t afford confusion. You don’t want to be ignored. The stakes around your communications are high.

Stop inflating your messages.

Say what you mean.

Photo credit: Andrew Dai via flickr


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