Say More by Saying Less – Part 2

Posted on 24th October 2017


Welcome to the Business Empathy Forum and thank you for your visit. In this post I continue examining how to be more concise. These suggestions will help make you sharper and more impactful in your leadership communication.

Tips for Concise Speaking

Three Key Points
Another obstacle to conciseness is the tendency to go off on tangents, to begin speaking about Topic A and to somehow end up discussing unrelated Topic D. This can be confusing and frustrating for the audience: it is hard to follow and wastes time. So avoiding tangents is important if you want to be concise.

A suggestion is to organize your thoughts into key points, usually no more than three. This gives you a structure to work with when you speak, so that your remarks have a beginning, a middle, and an end. Everything you say should relate to those three points. If you find yourself wandering away from your key points you are probably off on a tangent and need to reel yourself back in.

The important thing is to have a structure. Why? Because we crave structure when we listen: we want the speaker to organize things for us so they will be easier to understand and remember. Just as chapter headings and paragraphs help us understand what we are reading in a book, a ‘key point’ structure helps us absorb and understand a spoken presentation.
In terms of conciseness your structure operates like a GPS or a roadmap, letting you know when you are on the right track or when you have veered off-course. A simple structure will make you a more concise and impactful speaker.

Silence as ‘white space’
If you work in business you may have watched one or two slide presentations in the course of your career. Thinking back, which slides were easiest to understand: those that were chock-full of text or those with just a few words and lots of white space? The slides with the white space, right? The white space made the message stand out: it was clearer because there was less on the slide to distract you.

Silence works in a similar way with the spoken word: it allows the message to stand out. But many people have a tendency to try to fill every available moment with words when speaking: they may be trying to cram as much information as possible into the available time, or they may actually be ‘afraid’ of silence and scrambling to avoid that discomfort by filling the available time with words.

This is counter-productive when our goal is clarity and conciseness. Our minds can absorb words faster than most people can speak, but we still need pauses to ‘catch up’ and connect the dots, especially when dealing with lots of information or with a persuasive argument. Beyond that, people process information in different ways and at different speeds. We need to be particularly sensitive to this when working in multinational environments, when audience members may be listening in their second or third language.

The bottom line is that silence is not necessarily a bad thing when you are speaking in a meeting or delivering a presentation: it gives people time to absorb your words and to think. It can also serve as a powerful form of ‘verbal punctuation’. So allow yourself to slow down. Build pauses into your interventions and presentations. Breathe. Your goal is to be clear and effective; don’t fear a bit of silence.

The confidence to stop talking
Some people chatter when they are nervous: they talk too fast and run their sentences together, they may even have trouble breathing. That is why we encourage people to take a deep breath before they begin a speech. Regardless, in terms of public speaking we tend to associate fast, fragmented speech and ‘filling the silence’ with nervousness and a lack of confidence.

If that is true, it stands to reason that the opposite behaviors will help convey calmness and confidence. In other words, speaking slowly, pausing occasionally, and allowing for silence can do great things for your image as a calm and confident executive. This is about steady versus anxious energy, about not appearing to try too hard. Have the confidence to make your point and then stop talking.

Airtime: Choose Quality over Quantity
Finally, some people believe their impact as executives and leaders is a function of airtime: the longer they speak, the more impact they will have. I disagree. In my experience, impact is related to how clearly and effectively we communicate, not to how much. Try saying more by saying less.

Good luck!