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Short! Keeping Your Presentations Brief

The increasing trend toward succinct and brief writing. Is brevity beneficial or is it dulling our dendrites?

Short. It’s the new in thing. Blogs. Tweets. iPad. YouTube. Facebook. HLN. Push to start. Short and simple tidbits of info in easy-to-digest sizes. But is this brevity beneficial? Or is it dulling our dendrites?

Twenty years ago, I was college student writing for the Independent Florida Alligator in Gainesville. One of my articles was about human rights issues at the community college. My first draft contained flowing writing, interviews, and hard-hitting research. The editor rejected it. He said it was too short. Nowadays, if you can even find a newspaper reader, chances are they want their news short. In an article on, Alan Jacobson- a newspaper design specialist shared that readers “don’t want more. They want less.”

A 2007 survey discovered an average 55 word decline in the length of an average 720 word news story…That’s over a 7.5% reduction in length.

But it’s more than news articles. When websites first appeared in the mid 1990s, most articles were crammed with wordy comprehensive mini-novels of text. Nowadays, the sites that get the most visibility are easy on the eye and light on the text.

People lead busy lives. They don’t want the stories. What’s your point and what’s in it for me?

My mother says, “I don’t have time, interest, or patience, in reading long emails,” and adds that Toastmasters is a great venue for helping people to get to the point.

To that point, technology has been a great guide for brevity. Text messaging on the cell phone has invented a new lexicon of acronyms, symbols and abbreviations.

Facebook and its 1.5 Billion users are constrained to their communications in a 512 character window.

Twitter is even more rigid. Just 140 characters to say what’s happening. The New York Times claims that Twitter has “fundamentally transformed the nature of news.”

At first, I didn’t get it. When these micro-blogging tools first appeared, I had lots of trouble fitting my thoughts into a box of just 140 characters. Or even figuring out anyone would want to! I like my writings to be flowing and articulate, infused with vibrant adjectives, tangential stories, and a creative richness made possible by a wonderful language.

But…over time I began to discover how – from a website and marketing perspective – shorter is better. It allows us to trim the fat from the story. “Just the facts, ma’am”

The late great author Ernest Hemingway was regarded as a master of simplicity. Hemingway was famous for a terse minimalist style of writing that dispensed with flowery adjectives and got straight to the point. One of Hemmingway’s finest demonstrations of his short sentence prowess was when he was challenged to tell an entire story in only 6 words. Anyone know what he came up with?

For sale: baby shoes, never used.

Hemmingway was a trailblazer for today’s bloggers and new media writers. I’m sure he would have fit right in with today’s tweeters and one-liners.

Yes, this focus toward simplicity is helping us to cut the fat away from the story and get to the point. But, in our push to say more with less, are we actually getting more? Is this shift toward shortness and brevity a good thing?

The lonely adverb, minimally applied. The colorful adjective…often too bulky for a text message. Our richly textured language, stories, and colorful anecdotes, all swept aside by the mass media of minimalism.

The fact that people – including myself – don’t want to take the time to read a lengthy article – or spend an afternoon watching a classic 3 hour long movie – is a testament to our love affair with short things. Simple, short, and to the point. Our texting…the younger generation’s short quips and retorts born out of an effort to consolidate their comments – can be heartless and cold. The media embraces it.

The TV show Glee is pampered with snappy retorts and one-liners that may be numbing our brains…dulling our dendrites, and cooling our true human spirit and interaction.

My point here is that our language- our culture- is shifting solidly toward “verbal conservation.” Whether or not this proves valuable for human communication and interaction in years to come remains to be seen.

Yes. Short’s in. At 5-foot-4; I think short’s better. Conscious or not, people look at me and think “Kevin is the short guy.” I stand out. But I only stand out because I’m outside the average height. If everyone was short – if everything was short – and abbreviated – nothing would stand out.

Perhaps the 18th century clergyman Hosea Ballou summed it up best with these words of caution. “Never be so brief as to become obscure.”

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