The Brilliance of Brevity

In a smoky bar while drinking heavily, Hemingway made a bet with fellow authors that he could tell a story in only six words.  Once everyone at the table agreed to participate, Hemingway wrote his story on the back of a napkin, passed it around the group, and gleefully collected his winnings. The story read, “For Sale. Baby Shoes. Never Worn.”

Historians include this brief, vivid story as one of Hemingway’s best works. The brilliance was his ability to communicate with stunning efficiency. Nearly 100 years later, the six-word story tradition continues, with dozens of websites showcasing these tiny and compelling pieces.  A quick Google search yielded gems such as “I awoke to the sirens again”, “No, I’m single, said my wife”,  “Wet, cold, tired – and smiling. Success”, and “Blonde parents. Dark daughter. Genetics undiscussed.”

With only 140 characters allowed, Twitter has made a profound impact in global communications, from helping to topple dictatorships and defend human rights, to launching new movies and trash-talking athletic rivalries. If tweets had no size limit, the potency would be greatly diminished and the Twitter sensation would likely never taken off.

Today, we have no shortage of blank paper, no limit to the number of slides in a PowerPoint presentation. It’s easy for us to blather on, caring little about brevity. Yet with information overload, messages are getting lost and communication quality is spiraling downward. Sales pitches, investor memos, print ads, offer letters, emails, newscasts, and nearly every other form of communication have become bloated and ineffective with each unneeded superfluous word.  And then we wonder why it’s become so hard to get our messages across; our voices heard.

In the sea of brand messages and big data, fewer words can yield a bigger impact. Refine your communications to the most compelling and efficient format, and your results will dramatically improve. Saying more with less isn’t always easy, but the extra effort will skyrocket your return-per-word. Simply put, brevity wins.

In the words of Mark Twain, “I wanted to write you a short letter. I didn’t have time, so I wrote you a long one.”