Stop procrastinating before it stops you

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A third grader had to do a book report, and he chose a Socrates biography.  His report consisted of three succinct sentences:

  1. Socrates was a philosopher.
  2. He talked a lot.
  3. They killed him.

Not much more to say about brevity.  Maybe that's why U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt said, "Be sincere.  Be brief.  Be seated."

Another U.S. President, Woodrow Wilson once said:  "If I am to speak for 10 minutes, I need a week for preparation; if 15 minutes, three days; if half an hour, two days; if an hour, I am ready now."  

This is a good explanation for why people are so long-winded.  It's easier.  You don't need to think and prepare as much.  Just let it roll.

Maybe that's why William Shakespeare said, "Brevity is the soul of wit."

One thing I know is that brevity is powerful.  People who can speak or write concisely and to the point are more successful.

The late comedian George Burns was right on when he said, "The secret of a good sermon is to have a good beginning and a good ending; and to have the two as close together as possible." 

I have a little different take on preparation.  The nature of my public speaking engagements usually requires me to present for longer periods.  But that doesn't mean I don't need to be completely ready and well-researched to keep my points brief and interesting.

If I have to make a 60-minute speech on a new subject, I figure it will take 60 hours of preparation.  It's almost one hour of preparation for every minute, if you want your message to be good.  You never want your audience to wonder if you will ever stop talking.  You want to leave them wanting more - more fabulous content, not just more words.

Are you one of those people for whom conveying information can sometimes turn into the unraveling of a saga?  Here are some tips adapted from iVillage.com on how to keep your conversations short and sweet when necessary.

  • Don't get bogged down with irrelevant details.  Get to the meat of the information as directly as possible.  "I talked with Jim Thursday, or was it Wednesday?  No, I think it was Thursday ..." Does anyone really care?  Get to the point.
  • Don't repeat information.  Unless the person with whom you're talking indicates that he or she didn't hear what you said, say things only once.  I can't tell you how many times I hear the same message repeated over and over with different words.  Don't rehash old news.  
  • Take a writing class.  A good writing class can teach you to make your points using the fewest words possible.  The training can also benefit your spoken communications.  
  • Eliminate non-word fillers.  I am very aware (and annoyed) when people use too many "ums" ... "likes" ... and "you knows."  It's better to pause briefly and say nothing.
  • Bring up information that is relevant to most of the group.  Save any questions specific to you or any specialized conversations for later discussion.

Here's a grand example of when short is sweet.  One of the most memorable Academy Award acceptance speeches was delivered by Patty Duke, who won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for her role in "The Miracle Worker."  She uttered just two words:  Thank you.  

If all the winners were so succinct, the entire program would last about an hour instead of three or four.   

But my choice for best short speech ever goes to Winston Churchill, Great Britain's prime minister during World War II.  He led the British through the darkest days of the war, rallying spirits with his soaring rhetoric.   

Churchill, rarely recognized as a man of few words, was invited to address the graduating class of Oxford University in his later years.  Following his introduction, he walked to the lectern and simply said, "Never, never, never give up."  Then he sat down.  Memorable?  Absolutely.

The lesson in writing for newspapers is always "Be brief!"  However, a certain beginner in journalism picked up what seemed to him to be a big story.  He hurried to text his editor what he had uncovered.  

The editor responded promptly, "Go ahead and write 600 words."

The enthusiastic young reporter was depressed and fired back a text, "Story can't be told in less than 1,200 words."

The editor's reply said, "Story of world's creation was told in 600 words.  Try it."

Mackay's Moral:  Short speeches often deliver big messages.