Taking the time to write less

“I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I’ve written a long one instead." — Mark Twain

A common pitfall in presentations is excessive use of words. More is seldom better when presenting to a crowd of impatient, busy executives.

Why is it that we feel we need to use so many words to make our arguments? I believe the problem stems from three inter-related problems:

  1. Not having a well-defined arguement that can easily be summed up,
  2. Overcompensating to paper over flaws in an argument,
  3. Not investing the time to edit

Let me offer a few examples of wordy phrases from presentations, and show how you can edit the statements without losing the essential point:

Warming up:

  • Original: Improve customer satisfaction (top 2 box scores) to drive increased retention by integrating the online and offline channels, re-designing processes before porting them online, and enhancing the user interface
  • Better: Improve satisfaction and retention by: 1) integrating online and offline channels; 2) re-designing processes for online; 3) enhancing user inferface [41% fewer words]

Even better:

  • Original: Focus on priorities that reflect and drive the value proposition, creating the sense of a premium brand that delivers on the emotional appeal and differentiated service.
  • Better: Focus on priorities that suport a premium brand, emotional appeal and differentiated service. [50% fewer words]

Now let’s really deciminate the wasted words:

  • Original: The past operating model for strategy development, design, and deployment of e-Commerce initiatives was largely conducted at the Line of Business (LOB) level. As a result there is no broad strategy that integrates the existing online products and services into a cohesive offering for consumers. From a customer perspective, the online offerings today are organized by product silos rather a customer-centric, needs-based approach.
  • Better: Past e-Commerce initiatives were conducted at the Line of Business (LOB) level. The result: no integration of online products and services into customer needs-based offerings. [60% fewer words]

For each of these examples, the meaning of the author’s point remains despite the editorial haircut. In fact, by making it easier for the audience to read, they are more likely to absorb the point.