Be Brief and Get Your Message Read

I’ll try to be brief. The average person’s attention span is eight seconds (one second less than a goldfish). That means most of you won’t read all the way through my article. Brevity is the new standard for businesses and  HR professionals. It’s a lot more difficult than you’d think.

Mark Twain said “I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead,” and the same probably goes for the majority of the emails you send out. To increase productivity, people need to learn how to do more with less.

“In the fast-paced, multi-tasking, attention-deficit workplaces we find ourselves, getting to the point quickly matters more than ever. If you’re long winded, you’ll lose people’s attention and get lost in the data deluge,” says TLNT. While the average person spends 2.6 hours each day checking their email, there’s a good chance they’ll stop reading after the first 30 seconds.

Think of it this way: In 1860, a 10-word telegram from New York to New Orleans cost $2.70. The number of words determined the cost; less words, less money. Now convert money with more interest. If you want to get the most out of your electronic communication—be it for sales, internal HR affairs, etc.—take the time to make it brief.

Remember that everyone’s time is valuable. Do you tend to sigh when you receive the kind of email you have to scroll through to get to the end of? So does everyone else. If you wouldn’t want to read the thousand-word email you’re about to send, neither would the receiver. If you feel that you’re rambling, be sure to wrap it up. Trim excess word-fat wherever possible.

At the risk of belaboring my point, allow me to share an example from Inc.com—an actual sentence the author found in a real business document:

“In order to focus externally, we must focus both externally and internally (customer’s customer and internal alignment necessary to respond), with internal collaboration with common focus/goals by stakeholders accountable for ultimate business results oriented, optimized, and coordinated outputs, aligned around the sales cycle and with a proactive approach to higher order competency investments and being unwilling to throw deliverables over the fence to sales teams and trust results will be achieved.”

All the person really said was: “We must measure whether, or how much, our sales training programs increase our revenue.”

Plot what you’re going to say, say it, and have it read. The last 413 words, for instance, could be cut down to two:

“Be brief.”