“Be brief, be brilliant, be gone,” is oft-quoted and less frequently followed. The quote is often attributable to President Woodrow Wilson; however, several other luminaries have spoken to the theme. Here are a few of my favorites:
- “Be sincere; be brief; be seated.” Franklin D. Roosevelt.
- “Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.” Winston Churchill
- “Grasp the subject, the words will follow.” Cato The Elder
- “Speak clearly, if you speak at all; carve every word before you let it fall.” Oliver Wendell Holmes
All of these quotes sound the same theme: 1) be strategic in your communication – ask what is the goal to be achieved? 2) be intentional – once the goal is determined select the words that will allow you to achieve that goal; 3) be impactful – be economic with your word choice since less is more; and, 4) leave the listener with the impact you intended.
Mark Twain once stated “I didn’t have the time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.” Amusing and true. It takes more time to be brief than to be long-winded. Being brief requires the discipline to have determined the goal of the communication and once known, as Oliver Wendell Holmes stated “carve every word before you let it fall.”
The centerpiece of the weekly Rotary meeting is a speaker. The criteria for selecting speakers are: 1) the person must have a topic of interest; 2) the recommender must have heard the person speak and can vouch that she or he is an engaging speaker; and, 3) the speaker’s topic must conform to an area of interest, as selected by the Club President. The Friday before the Wednesday luncheon meeting, a notice is sent to all Rotarians that includes a brief paragraph of the topic, a photo of the individual, and his or her bio. For our example, the speaker will address the women’s suffrage movement, which will celebrate in 2020, 100 years since women achieved the right to vote.
At the Wednesday meeting, the recommender introduces the speaker. Being strategic, the recommender/introducer will assume that the audience read the weekly notice, hence the speaker’s bio, thus, the goal is to add something of interest about the speaker to spark the membership’s interest and curiosity, thus ensuring their attention.
The introducer states: “All of you have read Bonnie’s impressive qualifications in our weekly notice. I met her at a recent meeting of those of us who will walk behind the women’s suffrage float in the January 1st Rose parade. Those at the meeting assumed we had the facts down. However, Bonnie dug deeper and found out some interesting details none of us knew. For instance, when women were arrested for protesting outside the White House in 1919 and were jailed, notes were drafted, and carried out to the press by the African American female custodians, which led to their release. Let’s give Bonnie a warm Rotary welcome to hear more . . .”
Simply stated, being brilliant requires revisiting the strategic goal or aim – in our example, to offer up new and exciting facts to ensure audience interest, rather than to repeat her qualifications. (For those who didn’t read her bio beforehand, they could do so after the speech.) Being more specific, one needs to ask what are the one or two points the speaker wants the audience to takeaway. In our example: 1) that there will be a Rose Parade float celebrating a woman’s right to vote, and both the introducer and speaker will be participants; and, 2) the speaker has interesting and informative facts that add to the fuller picture of the American suffrage movement.
Less is definitely more. Keep the audience eager and guessing. Those who want to know more will seek out the speaker. Sometimes it takes the form of asking for a copy of the talk, the PowerPoints or other visuals, or an email or phone exchange. If one is a consultant, it often leads to work. For those who have little interest in the topic or speaker, being brief and gone allows them to move through their days without a bad taste in their mouths – about the speaker or introducer.
Recapping – Be Brief, Be Brilliant Be Gone:
1) Be strategic in your communication – ask what is the goal to be achieved?
2) Be intentional – select the words that will allow you to achieve that goal.
3) Be impactful – be economic with your word choice since less is more.
4) Leave the listener with the impact you intended and, hopefully, wanting more.
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