Brevity, Clarity and Context

I’ll be brief, naturally.

A couple days ago I received a phone call from a colleague. Specifically, it manifested itself as a voice mail. The message was long. It was filled with details; plenty of which were unnecessary and distracting from the core ideas being communicated.

I’m not the voice / phone person I used to be. I believe this is true of more and more people, and probably most people at this point. To be clear, I just don’t expect War & Peace via a voice mail. Does anyone?

Brevity, Clarity and Context

In any case, I confess, I didn’t listen as closely as I should have and botched a minor detail or two. Yes, I was upset with me. I should have known better. It’s not the first time the sender has TMI’ed someone.

That said, my colleague could have done better as well. We all could do better when it comes to be brevity, clarity and context.

The message could have made better use of  brevity. It could have focused on clarity—the necessary highlights for the medium (i.e., voice mail). Finally, it could have probably had some consideration for the context of the receiver (i.e., me). Even a short follow up text message (e.g., “i left a long voice msg, u might want to have pen and paper ready. call me later pls” ) would have been a big help.

Communication isn’t just words or ideas. It requires a mindful sender, as well as a ready, willing and able receiver.

The bottom line…In the words of Frank Luntz (from his book “Words That Work”): “It’s not what you say, it’s what people hear.”

When looking for “work”, get words to work for you

“Six Ways To Ruin Your Resume” by Greg Schaffer (Computer World, 13 April 2009).

You may have already realized the AU state of mind often takes things from one box and furthers the use of those ideas by applying them to a situation in another box. In this instance, please shoehorn this article into the other box of copy writing – specifically copy writing for web sites. One of the highlights was actually a handful of words in the sidebar. Please reword to fit your particular situation.

Speak to your audience

Your résumé should be directed to a technology professional.

Yes, human resources may review the application as well, but ultimately the position’s supervisor (and most probably peers) will choose whom to interview. Your résumé should talk to them.

Remember that your goal is to get your foot in the door for a face-to-face interview. If you’re applying to be a network administrator, have a fellow network administrator or two review your application, and ask for their impressions from a peer perspective. Does it convey that you know networking? If the answer is yes, you’re well on your way to landing that job.

In short, job hunting is like sales, and sales is like job hunting. Aside from good copy both also require focus, persistence and most of all an understanding of the audience being targeted. Whether you’re selling a product, a service or yourself to a prospective employer, the tactict and strategy for success are essentially universal.

What came first, the speaker or the audience

“Conquer Your Fear of Public Speaking” by Editor In Chief Maryfran Johnson (CIO Magazine, 1 April 2009, does a handy job at helping raise your public speaking game. She’s even goes bold and gets it right when she says, “It’s not about you.”

However, we’d actually like to take that a step further and rewrite her “most important question” (mentioned in the next to the last paragraph) to “What is this particular audience going to hear when I tell the story I want to tell?” A truly effective communicator understands context and that as Frank “Words That Work” Luntz says, “It’s not what you say, but what people hear.” In other words, the story you want to tell is meaningless, it’s the story they’re going to hear that really matters.

And while we’re on this subject here’s another from CIO,  “How to Master Professional Speaking” by John Baldoni.

It’s not what you say, it’s what they see

“Watch Your Body Language” by Anita Raghavan (Forbes Magazine, 16 March 16 2009). There’s little doubt we’re all looking for tools that will give us an advantage when we’re on the business pitch. Your body language might just be the key to that next essential negotiation. It’s difficult to agree with Luntz’s, “it’s not what you say, it’s what they hear.” Xince there are also non-verbal communications in any face to face encounter it naturally makes sense to:

1) Be aware of what your body language might be saying to the receiver

2) Try to “listen” to what the senders body language might be saying that’s not in concert with their words

In the end, it’s transparency and authenticity that rule the day. If your “brand” is out of sync with your message – verbal, visual or action – then people are going to pick up on that.

Words work. Bullets help.

From communications guru Mr Steve Adubato ( comes a tight piece titled “Memo slingers should use bullets wisely“.

As a supplement to Mr Adubato’s thoughts we’d like to mention that a good thumb is to use numbers for up to 5 or 6 bullets, and letters for anything above that. Why? As the article mentions, going to 10+ can be a bit
overwhelming for the receiver. The obvious exception being a Top 10. On the other hand,  letters can be a sort of psychological loophole. In other words, people are far less conscious of the fact that J = 10. Obviously, if the list is going to be part of an ongoing conversation lack of a reference identifier is a no-no.  Bullets not only bite-size the thoughts the sender is needing to be received but numbering / lettering them makes it easier to refer to them as the conversation moves forward.

On the other hand, there is an exception. Sometimes numbers / letters can come across as too authoritative in a I-told-you-these-three-things sort of way. If the communication is of a sensitive nature  then a simple dash might be best.  Written communication can be difficult under such circumstance so be sure to choose your words and tone wisely.

While we’re on the subject of clear communication, now is yet another  good time to recommend  the book “Words That Work (It’s not what you say, it’s what people hear)” by Dr Frank Luntz. If you can’t spare the time to consumer the whole book that’s understandable. But Chapeter 1 is a must read. Chapter 12 is probably worth the investment as well.

The perfect gift: Words That Work

Now that it’s available in paperback there’s no excuse not to pick up “Words That Work (It’s not what you say, it’s what people hear)” by Dr Frank Luntz. Chapter 1 is a contemporary biz classic. While Dr Luntz’s primary theme of “It’s not what you say, it’s what people hear” might not be rocket science it can certainly be a life changer if you choose to apply it in your approach to communication.

This is certainly no substitute for reading the book but here are “The Ten Rules of Effective Language” from Chapter 1:

1 – Simplicity: Use Small Words
2 – Brevity: Use Short Sentences
3 – Credibility Is A Important As Philosophy
4 – Consistency Matters
5 – Novelty: Offer Something New
6 – Sound and Texture Matter
7 – Speak Aspirationally
8 – Visualize
9 – Ask A Question
10 – Provide Context and Explain Relevance

Good stuff, right? Also be sure to consume Chapter 12’s “Twenty-one Words and Phrases for the Twenty-first Century”. Let’s just hope you’ve been intrigued enough to buy the book or at least spend an hour or so at the library.