Rambling on in speech or in prose is never pleasant. As listeners, we crave for people to get to the point. And, as speakers, we crave the ability to offer them just that. Being concise is an art. It involves the ability to distill the essence of anything into simple yet accurate messages that can be understood by the target audience.
Today, I deconstruct this art and share a model for being concise that is applicable to almost any context. It is based on my learnings from a decade of operating in some very intense and unforgiving business environments.
A model for being concise
This model allows access to a mindset from which conciseness arises naturally. It is not about following rules or using tricks, but rather about creating the psychological conditions for you to become concise. The model is comprised of four interconnected elements
What is the (real) question?
Very clearly understanding the question being investigated is fundamental to being concise. The question is what orients the mind and ensures that unnecessary digressions are avoided.
I have inserted “real” within parenthesis above because sometimes the question is not entirely clear. And, if this is the case, it is crucial that you take time to clarify this satisfactorily. The clearer the question is, the more accurate and concise the answer is likely to be.
Who is it for?
This is about the intended audience, which might even be yourself. The more that you understand your audience, the more you will be able to present messages that are digestible by them. For example, a quantum physicist researching black holes cannot discuss her findings with a non-physicist the same way she does with her peers.
Detailing her mathematical proofs might only serve to confuse the non-physicists. She might however be able to articulate her ideas another way, by using analogies or pictures perhaps. And, certainly, the wider implications of these findings could be explained in lay terms.
A better understanding of your audience could also allow you to uncover the “real” question that they would like answered.
In some cases, the surface presentation
of the question may not be what is actually
wanted or needed.
And, the more you know your audience, the more quickly you can get to the heart of matters. Ongoing business relationships are a great opportunity for developing deeper insights into your audience.
You have probably noticed that the two elements above; “what is the question” and “who is it for” work together, forming a sort of self-reinforcing virtuous cycle. This is why they are set out opposite each other in the diagram.
Being curious about the question and the associated subject matter is what really allows us to uncover new and deeper insights. It is curiosity that compels further investigation beyond the apparent and the obvious. Not being rushed is an important enabler of curiosity as it allows the space for your mind to explore.
Without genuine curiosity, we can never hope to penetrate deep into the core of a subject. Waffling often tends to creep in when the presenter does not fully understand the topic themselves.
So, the more deeply you understand something,
the more concise you are able to be.
This becomes even more important as the complexity of the subject increases.
Curiosity can however sometimes cause us to get lost in the detail or majorly digress from the topic. This is why remembering both the question and the audience is so important. These two elements help to reorient us and direct our curiosity in a way that produces more conciseness.
You are probably beginning to now see how the different elements of the model work together to create the conditions for being concise.
Knowing where you stand
This element is about acknowledging and accepting where you currently stand in relation to the topic being explored. This requires you to become more aware of your knowledge of the subject (including any gaps), relevant skills and experience.
Rambling can often be the result of insecurity. People often use “padding” around what they say because they are uncertain or insecure about their content. This kills conciseness.
Knowing where you stand helps to cut through insecure waffling and enable a more honest, collaborative discussion. It will also help build greater trust with your audience. It is better to recognise that which is yet “unknown”, rather than to dance around this fact.
“Curiosity” and “knowing where you stand” appear opposite each other in the diagram as they too form another self-reinforcing cycle. The more you acknowledge where you stand, the more likely you are to notice the gaps in your knowledge and become curious about learning. And, the more curious you become about the subject, the more your knowledge grows!
Being clear about the question, understanding the audience, curiosity, and knowing where you stand, work together to enable conciseness in speech and prose. Applied together, the four elements provide a model for distilling the essence of almost anything in a way that is digestible by the audience. This then is a model for more than just being concise, it is a model for being salient. And, like any skill, the model can be practiced, so that it eventually becomes second nature.