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Talk Less, Say More

Posted: 01/11/2012 00:00

Previously I wrote about the power of brevity in clear communication. It seems strange that we take so long to individually this conclusion about simplicity - because a vast body of thinking has illuminated our path to this answer.

John Hegarty - the advertising legend - last year wrote his lifelong learnings about impactful communication. While he is talking about advertising it has an application for every field. "Creativity in advertising is all about the power of reduction. Write less, say more". Reductive expression is the secret of getting your message across in a memorable way.

There are fascinating lessons to be drawn from the use of Twitter by comedians. Twitter, somewhat unexpectedly has found itself to be an oasis of comedy. The making of comedians used to be shows like Mock the Week and Have I Got News for You. A blistering performance there and the Hammersmith Apollo would soon be beckoning.

Frankie Boyle commented recently that now no comedian need to wait for their day in the sun to blurt funny topical lines on TV panels shows, they can now ad lib in the moment on Twitter. Talent like Rob Delaney (@robdelaney) and Kelly Oxford (@KellyOxford) have been propelled into proper old-fashioned success merely by their Twitter dexterity.

More than any other group comedians have found that the confines of brevity can provide a creative impetus. How do I get a zinger into 140 characters? It is the harshest form of creative restrictiveness to be forced to be reductive. The gag needs to be brutally pared back to fit into 140 characters. Yet comedians thrive. Rob Delaney - the previously unknown stand-up who last year found himself awarded Best Comedian on Twitter by Comedy Central. Delaney spoke for many when he observed that the discipline of reductive creativity is one that is difficult but invariably results in a better gag. Write less, say more.

Could any five words have propelled the iPod more effectively than Steve Jobs's snappily intoned '1000 songs in your pocket'? One sentence helped to open a product category that until then had been perceived as geeky and esoteric. A hard drive that stored MP3 files that needed manual uploading? No - 1000 songs in your pocket. The world got it. Write less, say more.

The potency of succinct expression is often breathtaking. Ernest Hemingway was famously once asked to write a six-word novel. The resulting work ("For sale. Babies shoes. Never worn") is too delicately potent to require clumsy examination here. (For comparison Harold Robbins' execrable attempt to better him with a three-word rival ("I love you") merited a Julian Assange style international pariah status). In this spirit the Guardian recently challenged its readers to create their own 140 character stories. One of the most popular from Ian Rankin has a drama and story arc that E.L. James would lust after.

When we are all assailed with information overload brevity is becoming less of a choice than a necessity. Maurice Saatchi points out to us that the most enduring epithets of history have a self-contained simplicity to them.

Liberty, Egalite, Fraternite.

Yes we can.

One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind*.

If you want someone to remember what you say tomorrow? Think about how you can say less of it.

Talk less, say more.

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* History was kind with the epitaphs of Neil Armstrong. Overlooking the fact that he got his single scripted line wrong - he was meant to say "One small step for A man..." One of my colleagues used to live next door to Armstrong - true fact. He said Armstrong never liked talking about the moon. Nor would you. You have one line to deliver, you fly all the way to the moon on autopilot and then you balls up the punch line. I'd never want to discuss it either.

 

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