Mark Twain once said. “Please forgive the length of my letter. I would have written a shorter one if I had more time.”
With this in mind, I was thrilled to discover Buffer cofounder Leo Widrich’s recent blog “The Psychology of Language: Why Are Some Words More Persuasive Than Others?” exploring the importance of brevity. In this age of overflowing inboxes, I advise sales professionals to “get to the point” quickly while delivering as much impact as possible. Those of you familiar with my prospecting technique, “Why You? Why You Now?™” know the power of a 3-sentence email. To read some scientific support of the notion that our pitches should be “limited to 30 seconds, and that we should reduce the number of adjectives and adverbs” was equally vindicating!
But do we really need research and studies to know that this is an effective way to communicate? Thinking back to my days in junior high (or “middle school” today – I’m dating myself a bit here,) I realize that this concept is hardly new to most English teachers.
During 7th Grade, our feared Ms. McNabb had the unique gift to inspire her students to come to “ah-ha” moments on their own, while offering encouraging nudges along the way. One afternoon, she kept me after school for some constructive feedback on my latest essay. As her lone comment was a simple, “See me!” in bold red Sharpie, I approached her desk with trepidation.
“Mr. Hoffman,” she started, staring over her half-rim glasses. “Do you know how many words there are in the English language?”
“No, Ms. McNabb.”
“Over 800,000. Suffice it to say, that if you would like to make your point, you should choose the appropriate noun or verb. Kindly do so on your revision, and while doing so, please remove all adjectives and adverbs. They are distracting and annoying.” She highlighted this point by crossing out said adjectives and adverbs with that same Sharpie.
Message received loud and clear. The lesson has served me well through the years and is reinforced throughout Widrich’s article, specifically addressing the importance of brevity and the power of directness.
I once overheard a sales rep on a customer’s voicemail saying this: “I would be very interested in setting up a brief phone conversation with you at your earliest convenience.” Only a salesperson can turn “Let’s talk” into an 18 word sentence. And we wonder why some people don’t like us very much. Simple and direct language communicates honesty, strength, and purpose. It is not just good sales. It is apparently also good science.
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