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]

Beth Levine