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Short, Simple and to the Point

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I've always said that if you can't explain the essence of a project in one page, you aren't ready to head up that project. Or, if you can't hold a powerful feedback session with employees, using  a one-page document outlining what's working and what's not, you have to question whether you deserve to be their manager. What about not being ready to make a group presentation if you can't talk from a 3X5 card?

I'm fascinated with the idea of brevity. So few can do it well. And yet, how do you know what you really think or want to do unless you can narrow your thoughts down to a razor-sharp focus in just a few words. Until you get to that point, I'm not convinced you actually know what you really want.

As an executive coach, I helped a client a few years ago develop the ability to do this. She'd gotten feedback that she was verbose. Her emails and her in-person exchanges were full of excess words and perceived fluff. She became a master at expressing herself with clarity --whether in writing or in person -- in just a few words. Or a few sentences if necessary. Or if need be, a page. Her influence rose quickly within the organization because people actually heard what she was saying, some for the first time.

Bill Joos is a venture capitalist and a marketeer from Silicon Valley. He gets 95,000 applications for funding. He teaches people how to get heard. He and his team at Garage Technology Ventures whittle that number down to 50 funded projects. Bill teaches entrepreneurs how to get heard by nailing the core business proposition down to just seven words. Seven words! Asking for millions of dollars with a seven-word target.
In a recent CBJ Quarterly (Corridor Business Journal Quarterly), Tim Boyle had "The Final Word" and talked about this topic of brevity. He talked about the power of "the six word synopsis," like an NPR-ish sort of parlor game. It's what great trial lawyers do well, he says. They practice "summation," wrapping up an argument with a punch line. Wham! No way the jurors could miss that point!
It's like Twitter-lite. Tim shared a few of his six-word favorites:
  • Text messaging just isn't cutting it.
  • Cancer diagnosis taught me to live.
  • Smart people can overcome their education.

And the six-word epitaph on a gravestone in Los Angeles, "I told you I was sick."

Can you boil the mission of your department down to six words? If you're unhappy with an employee's performance, how would you convey that in six words, leaving no chance of misunderstanding? What's your leadership vision. "In six words, who are you?"

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Wow, Shirley. What a powerful concept. I teach people how to write an elevator speech that could fit on the back of a business card, but I like your idea even better!

Shirley - How nice of you to mention me. I'm flattered. My all-time favorite is actually a "double-six" from Willie Mays. Asked to describe his approach to baseball he said, "They throw it; I hit it. They hit it; I catch it."

Pretty simple game.

Tim Boyle

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