“I am sorry for such a long letter. I didn’t have time to write a short one.” – Mark Twain
When new clients call me for the first time, they often tell me that they want to learn how to deliver shorter answers.
They tell me that they know too much about their topics and can’t shorten their answers to just 30 seconds. Or that they ramble when they get nervous. Or that their subject requires a lot of nuance, preventing them from delivering an answer in the short timeframe that reporters require.
“Talking short” is difficult. Of course it is. We’re not time-restricted in most settings, so we don’t have to spend a lot of time worrying about the length of our responses. If I want to share a story with my wife, for example, she rarely taps her watch and tells me to tighten up my story. And I’m guessing that your friends don’t tell you to speed up your storytelling when you’re lingering over a beer.
But it is possible to talk short, and this post will give you an easy tip to make brevity much easier to achieve.
When clients deliver a seemingly endless answer, I stop them and ask them to answer my question again – but in only one sentence.
Guess what? When they’re forced to do that, their one sentence is usually way more powerful than anything they said in the two-minute version. The one-sentence version typically gets straight to the point, is packed with action verbs, and comes across with greater authority.
It’s a useful exercise, but I’m not suggesting that you should limit your answers to only one sentence (as I’ve written before, you should view most questions as opportunities to advocate for your products or ideas). But by forcing yourself to do this exercise, you help yourself figure out which parts of your answer truly rise to the top.
When spokespersons get good at this technique, they often begin by answering questions with their short, powerful, one sentence burst, and then continue by adding additional context. It’s a winning formula.
So next time your colleagues or clients suffer from verbosity during a media interview, ask them to answer a series of questions using one only sentence for each. You’ll be impressed with how well they exclude the unnecessary and focus themselves on their message’s core.
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