Nothing informs the future of business communication more than the need for brevity in meetings and presentations. 

In fewer than 500 words, let’s look at the case for brevity and then at how to achieve it. Feel free to read this as a call to action – for yourself, your team and/or your organization!

The Case for Brevity

Clearly, brevity in presentations is a trend. Of the most popular formats, TedTalks, which typically share deep insights and are capped at 18 minutes, are the longest. There are also presentation events like Pechakucha – 20 slides at 20 seconds per slide – which have become almost a club sport in some cities.

In online training, the rage is microlearning – nuggets of material delivered in only 90 seconds or two minutes, consuming very little of the user’s time and attention but delivering something of value.

Audiences are demanding more of these brief formats. It’s not just that attention spans are shrinking – according to research, they’ve always been limited – it’s that the combination of a device and a WiFi connection is a formidable competitor. 

Finally, let’s face it, we all crave brevity because we’re tired of wasting time in unnecessarily lengthy meetings and presentations.

How to Achieve Brevity

Brevity isn’t simply about shortening the time by talking and moving through your material faster, it’s about homing in on what’s meaningful about your content and getting to the point sooner, with less mess. It’s about delivering the meat without a lot of side dishes obscuring it. Brevity is efficiency in communication.

So, what does it take to be brief? 

You need to plan, prioritize and package your material. 

How?

First, life and attention spans are short. Serve dessert first. In your opening, deliver your call to action or the ultimate takeaway of your presentation. Don’t wait until the end.

Second, go modular. Prepare your presentation not as a narrative but in chunks that are linked by transitions. Break down the chunks into big fish and little fish. 

Your big fish are your main points, and you state those first. If your presentation is informative, big fish statements will sound like a summary that captures the importance of a section of material. If your presentation is persuasive, your big fish statements will sound like a statement conveying value or benefit for your section(s) of material.

Your little fish are the background information and detail – evidence, if you will – that support your big fish. Little fish are subordinate to big fish and come second.

Delivering a presentation that is front-loaded with information (little fish) can be overwhelming and confusing to your audience. Packaging your information inside of a main point (big fish) and delivering that first helps to set context and foster greater understanding and retention. Information, or too much information, is the enemy of brevity. Be selective and prioritize information based on your audience’s appetite and interests. 

Communication is the currency of success, and brevity is the future of individual and organizational effectiveness. 

Beth Levine

Beth Levine

Communications Coach at SmartMouth Communications
SmartMouth Founder and Principal Beth Noymer Levine is a Communications Coach who is emerging as one of the country’s leading voices on how to prepare and deliver speeches and presentations that actually work for both the audience and the speaker.
Beth Levine

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