The Value of Brevity and Specificity

Did you ever tie a ribbon around your finger to remember something? Before we had smartphones, emails and countless other digital ways to set a reminder, a ribbon around your finger was the best way to remember something. Of course, this ornate yet abstract act isn’t specific enough. It tells you to remember — but doesn’t specify what. Even though the visual is effective, the point is lost.

When you communicate information — informally to friends, internally at your company or externally to clients — you must balance brevity and specificity. You want to be brief, get to your point and continue your conversation. You need to be specific, and communicate valuable information to your audience, so you don’t end up confusing them and wasting their time.

I was thinking about the flexibility of information exchange and how to effectively communicate with these traits in mind. A day or so after writing a note to myself, the whole thing clicked, and I had to share my thoughts with you.

Set Travel to Four
I was going through a stack of notes when I saw a small piece of paper with my handwriting. It said:

“Set Travel to 4”

Other than making me feel particularly Star Trekkian, I was confused with my note. Set travel to four? What was the four? Where and why was that related to travel?

I checked out the note against my calendar. I realized the note meant I needed to drive somewhere at 4:00 p.m. ET instead of the originally schedule 5:00 p.m. ET. I updated my calendar, disposed of the note and that was that.

Or, at least, it should have been. If you’ve read my blog before, then you know how I think. There is a lesson in just about everything — and this note was no exception.

Brevity for Brevity’s Sake is Far from Brief
My confusing note reminded me of a problem that I sometimes have: brevity for the sake of brevity. I’ll attempt to shorten up my train of thought to the least amount of words as possible. But, instead of crafting a concise message, I wind up with more questions than answers.

Chances are I was in a rush when I wrote that note, or at least multi-tasking. If I’d taken a moment or two longer to be more specific, the note would be much more useful. What if I’d wrote any of the following:

“Reset Travel Time to 4”
“Travel Time 4pm ET”
“Travel @ 4pm ET, not 5”

Any of these wordings clearly speak to what the note meant. Aside from including the date I was set to travel, there’s not much more information needed.

While brevity is a good thing, specificity is just as important. Just by adding a few words to a simple statement, your message can crystallize. Sure, you want to say the most valuable and relevant information in as few words as possible. But if you try too hard to condense your message, you may end up confusing your audience.

Too Brief or Not to Brief?
So, when should you be brief, and when should you be specific? There’s no one-size-fits-all answer to this question. However, I feel there are some guidelines you can use when communicating information, sharing your message or otherwise balancing brevity and specificity. Check out these tips and feel free to let me know what you think.

Use Strong, Clear Words to Create Meaningful Brevity. When you can get your point across with correctly chosen words, everything you say means more. People only have so much time to spend and interest to give. Being brief means being transparent. Communicate the most important information upfront. Make an impression.

Provide Information, Examples and Specific Points of Valuable. Backing up your message with data creates reliability. Using specific information to answer your audience’s questions positions you as a thought leader on your topic. Whenever specifics contribute to what you have to say, include them in your message.

Avoid Words for Words Sake. No one wants to read through an article full of fluff or sit through a lecture that’s all vaping. When you have your audience’s attention, use that time wisely. Treat them with respect. Provide useful information, helpful insights and your expert opinion.

What’s Brief to You Might Confuse Others. When you’re talking about your business, a hobby, or anything else you’re passionate about, you speak from a place knowledge and authority. For instance, you could choose to briefly gloss over well understood topics in your industry, and then focus on advanced concepts. However, if someone listening to you doesn’t have any background on your topic, they might not follow what you have to say. Brevity should never alienate your audience. Use specific information to educate the people around you and bring them to your level of conversation.

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