Brevity 101

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. 


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. 


Nothing informs the future of business communication quite like the need for brevity in meetings and presentations.

Brevity is not simply about using less time or saying less, it’s about being efficient with your communications. It’s about identifying the meaningful, meaty parts of your content and delivering those without unnecessary fluff, background or side points.

Brevity requires you to prepare, prioritize, and package your material. Prioritizing is the key here.

A couple of #Brevity tips:

  1. Serve dessert first: If you have a takeaway or call to action, don’t save it for the end, deliver it up front (the ultimate priority!). It helps set context and expectations, which are important for holding onto audience attention.
  2. Go modular: Build your presentation in chunks rather than in a narrative so you can remain adaptable. You might be reading your audience and want to jump to only the most important chunks (prioritizing again!), or your time might be cut short unexpectedly. Chunks leave you prepared and nimble.
  3. Know your big fish and little fish: Within those presentation chunks, know your main points or big fish (this requires you to … yep, prioritize your material) and your supporting information or little fish. Big fish come first. Leading or inundating with lots of little fish, or too much information, is overwhelming to both speaker and audience.

Even if attention spans were infinite, which we know they’re not, brevity is more efficient, which is valued and appreciated in any workplace!

Brevity. Period.


One really easy and effective technique for keeping yourself on a diet of short and sweet is to think about talking less and engaging more – making your presentations more of a give and take. For example, make a point and then open up the floor for questions or discussion. Besides creating a change in stimulus, this gives you two other advantages: It provides you with feedback on your audience’s level of understanding and buy-in; and it gives you insight into their biases and self-interests, both of which you need to know to achieve your desired outcome. I often encourage clients to use this technique when they’ve been asked to speak for an hour. Knowing full well that an audience can hang in there for maybe 20 minutes at a time, I encourage people to switch it up and take a Q & A break after each topic section of their presentation, rather than saving audience comments and questions for the end.

Another way to enforce brevity on yourself is to be a minimalist in your preparation. By that, I mean limit your written preparation to some simple bullet points. Once you get involved in writing a script for yourself, you become more and more wedded to the actual words you’ve written and the detail you’ve fleshed out in your script. I have found that some people need to start with a full-text script for their preparation and then work their way down to bullet points, once they’re comfortable enough and familiar enough with the direction and content of their talk. That’s great, too.

Ultimately, if you walk into a room with just the bullet points, you’ll be less attached to the beautiful words and sentences you wrote and you’ll be able to be more present with your audience. This is not to say that there aren’t times that call for a full-text script; there may well be. But be aware that a script can shift you and your attention more to delivering what’s on the paper than to connecting with the audience.

[Excerpted from Jock Talk: 5 Communication Principles for Leaders as Exemplified by Legends of the Sports World]

Err on the Side of Brevity

“No one ever complains about a speech being too short!”    – Ira Hayes
There are lots of quotes that convey the same sentiment – e.g. “always leave them wanting more” – and for good reason. You can never really be too brief, but you surely can be too long-winded.
So the tip of the month is to err on the side of brevity. Even the best speakers can lose their audiences when they overstay their welcome.

You’ll never be criticized for being brief; you’ll probably be thanked for allowing the audience time to ask for the detail they’re interested in hearing! 
It is, after all, all about them!

How to Watch the Olympic Games

This Olympic year, more than any other, our Team USA athletes are under intense pressure.

As if it’s not stressful enough to qualify and make the team ordinarily, members of Team USA have trained, traveled and competed during a global pandemic to earn their spots this year. Then, in preparation for, and while in Beijing, they must adhere to strict Covid protocols, including constant testing, to keep themselves and their teammates and competitors healthy for competition. On top of that, they have the usual random drug testing and, much less usual, their own government is boycotting the Games due to the host country’s human rights violations.
It’s a lot. It’s especially a lot if your sole focus is supposed to be on your sport.
While the athletes are laser-focused on their competitions, as well as on enjoying the Olympic experience, one other pressure is unavoidable: the presence of the media. The media, both print and broadcast, come with the territory of the Olympic Games. And while not every athlete is a draw for the mainstream media, every athlete certainly is a draw for their hometown media at the very least.
The media will be interested to hear everything from the athletes’ feelings about their competitions and venues to how they like the food and everything in between. “Everything in between” is where it can get dicey; for example, at these Games, that could include questions about the U.S. diplomatic boycott, China’s human rights record, the situation with Peng Shuai, or even air quality and environmental concerns. Again, it’s a lot.
So, as you watch the Games this month, and the Paralympic Games next month, enjoy the spectacular athletic feats you see. But also pay attention to the public speaking feats as well. As with any high-profile spokesperson or ambassador, we should be seeing a demonstration of the following 5 principles from Jock Talk in the interviews they give:
Audience-centricity – Are they making it interesting and accessible to the audience, or are they using jargon and making it hard to follow or understand?
Transparency – Are they being as open as possible about, and letting us into, their experience? In other words, are they being as open and sincere about their feelings and emotions as they are about the facts?
Graciousness – Are they taking the high road when asked about a disappointing performance or about their host country? Are they displaying good sportsmanship and are they representing their teams and country well?
Brevity – Are they getting to the point or rambling in their responses to questions? Are they able to end the interview once they’ve said everything they have to say?
Preparedness – Are they prepared to address victory as well as defeat, or do they seem to be caught off guard? Are they consistent in how they present themselves and “on brand” or on point with their responses?
Enjoy watching the Games this month and next and, while you’re at it, learn from these athletes’ performances at the mic. Hopefully, both on and off the field of play, Team USA will inspire us to be better!