"If you want to make a bigger impact, decide to give your audience less."

- Brief, page 216

Actionable Books is built on the premise that one must use what one reads. Take action. Don’t let an idea just sit there. So I did. I put Joseph McCormack’s Brief: Making a Bigger Impact by Saying Less into action. I kept it brief. I said more with less.

The other morning, I rolled over to my wife and said, “I killed a spider on my pillow last night.” Then I got up and walked away.

Knowing my audience, I got the desired effect. Let me say, my wife was very interested in everything I had to say the rest of that morning! I might as well have announced the house was on fire! There is power in brevity.

The Big Idea

The Big Idea: The biggest takeaway from the book

Treat your audience with respect

"Being brief is not just about time. What's more important is how long it feels to the audience."
- Brief, page 9

Ultimately, McCormack maintains that brevity is a practical application of the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. He argues that brevity will make your speaking, your selling and your leadership more effective. But, more than that it is a way of treating your audience well.

After all, that is what makes a brief person more effective, her audience appreciates the respect she shows for their time. She has done the hard work to synthesize the details into exactly what the audience would deem most relevant.

One of the key insights I’ve noticed multiple times in conversations has to do with the level of detail. McCormack maintains there are three levels of detail to any story. First level details represent those things central to your communication. Second level details add color and perhaps some clarity. Third level details are true, but add little to your case. Focus, he says, on level one details. Use level two sparingly and avoid level three details altogether. For instance, I used only level one details when I told my wife about the spider. Only when I added some second level details did she relax.

Insight #1

An actionable way to implement the Big Idea into your life

Long story short

"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."
- George Burns, as quoted in Brief, page 133

McCormack used (not only taught) several techniques for achieving brevity that I will commend here. “Long story short” served as a way of summarizing each section. If I only had time to skim I could get the most important parts by finding that key phrase. He used pictures. In each section he had pictures of an army man with some relevant quote or saying. Beside each picture was a quick summary of the key idea he was trying to communicate. If a picture is worth a thousand words, one should expect visuals to enhance brevity. He chose acronyms and headlines to summarize and make reading easy.

I am a pastor, I preach a sermon almost every week. And, I admit the George Burns quote above stings. Yet, I’ve been doing it for over 20 years and have never received a complaint for being too short! McCormack does recommend one thing preachers have done for centuries — the rule of three’s: He says, “Organize information in groups of three to keep order, attention, and balance.” [Carmine Gallo recommends the same technique. See the Talk Like Ted summary.]

Other important times to keep a long story short include performance reviews, saying “no”, selling and, of course, the “elevator pitch.”

Insight #2

An actionable way to implement the Big Idea into your life

Start by listening

"What you're talking about matters to the person you're talking to, and your active listening tells you what matters to that person. You have the other person's interest and assent."
- Brief, page 81

Listening to other people is the simplest way to craft your message to give them just what they need. He goes so far as to recommend appointing someone as the “active listener” at meetings. This person’s responsibility is to make sure concerns are heard and questions are answered. The active listener prevents conversations from swirling around the room, taking bunny trails and never landing on the most important topics.

He recommends two tactics for active listening: Ask open-ended questions connected to what you’ve heard. A well-crafted question will generate more information to help you focus your message. And, tap into the parts of the topic you’re genuinely interested in. Your own interest will keep you active as you listen.

Most people, though they’d never admit it, don’t listen – they wait to talk. He suggests that if someone interrupts you, let them. They weren’t listening anyway.

Though I am tempted to go on and on, the book is about being BRIEF! Say more by saying less.

Ultimately you have to make a choice, a choice to respect your audience, not to hear yourself talk. The primary contention of the book is that people will thank you. You will be more effective because of the good will and clarity gained by brevity.

Think of your next talk or meeting. What can you cut out or trim to be more effective?

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Scott Reavely

ABOUT Scott Reavely

I am husband to one, father to five. By day I am a pastor, by night a softball coach for 10 year-old girls. In my free time I serve on the board of Western Seminary...
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