Recently at the 2013 Emmys while accepting her award star Merritt Wever left the crowd speechless when she quickly wrapped up her speech in just a few seconds. She said “Oh my God, thanks so much! Thank you so much. Um, I gotta go. Bye!” It was hilarious and received a round of laughter and applause. The shortest, best received speech ever and talk about being memorable for all the right reasons.
We can definitely take a leaf out of her book. So here are some quick tips on applying brevity in your work life.
When you are requesting a meeting with someone, request a 30 minute or even a 15 minute meeting. Few people can refuse a 15 minute request and if you can’t say what you have to say in 30 minutes, you need to do some more work before you waste anyone else’s time! (Tough love)
When scheduling meetings with larger groups of people, buck convention and instead of booking a meeting for a hour, book it for 45 minutes. People can use the remaining 15 minutes to prepare, read the agenda on their own.
When you are asked to present for an hour, don’t feel you have to speak for the entire 60 minutes and then some! Always plan to finish early even the 45 / 50 minute mark and this will ensure you are a hit with your audience. Leave them wanting more, instead of wanting to see the last of you.
No one reads long emails! Either write a short email and put all the detail in an attachment or pick up the phone and have the conversation.
Finally this tip is from Sir Richard Branson. If you were to put what you were saying on a ‘Coat of arms’ what would it be? It would have to be simple and short to fit across the bottom of a coat of arms. Virgin’s motto for example on a coat of arms would be ‘Screw it, let’s do it!’.
George Bernard Shaw famously said ‘Brevity is the soul of wit’. Paraphrasing for a time starved world ‘Brevity is the soul of successful communication’.
A few weeks ago presenting a key note at a conference we had the pleasure of listening to this story shared by James Lindsay, Senior Manager – Technology.
A few years ago when I was living with my family in Canada, we had friends over one evening for a Thanksgiving dinner. It was a lovely evening, we had the fire going in the fire place, lots of good food, red wine and conversations. After our friends left we cleaned up and went to bed, tired but happy. At about 2 am I was woken up by the smoke alarm in our house going off. I sprung out off bed and went around the house carefully checking, the fire place, the basement, the whole house but could find no evidence at all of any fire. The alarm eventually turned itself off and I went back to bed. But about 15 minutes later, the alarm went off again. I couldn’t believe it, and went through the whole process again carefully checking the house from top to bottom and there was no fire to be seen anywhere. I thought the alarm might be faulty and did not want to be disturbed again, so turned it off completely. Later that night I was woken by a thick cloud of smoke and barely made it out off the house, with my wife and son. I even had to rush back in to get my dog. We were standing outside our house which was engulfed in thick smoke, waiting for the fire engine when a huge flame erupted, exactly from in front of the fire place. The fire engines did arrive and put out the fire and we found out that builders had been installing faulty fire places in new homes in our area to save money. I also found out later that my family and I had escaped the Grim Reaper by a few minutes. In life we often get early warning signs that serve a purpose. If we took notice of these signs and did something, imagine the difference we could make.
Friday night pizza and a movie at home is an end of week family ritual I look forward too, though most of the time I end up falling asleep on the couch. The other family ritual we have is going out for brunch most Sundays. I was shocked and surprised when last Sunday I was pulled up by my 14 year old for always ‘playing on my phone’ while conversing and eating at the same time. I must admit I am guilty as charged as I do live on my text messages. I did try to bluster my way saying ‘It’s important’, but really who was I kidding?
But it got me thinking, about how in a flat, fast and interconnected world, we are always chasing the next piece of sexy communication technology, but irrespective of what that may be, what matters is always getting your basics right. Coincidentally that very night I was reading Josh Kaufman’s book* where he describes the ‘Golden Trifecta’. Courtesy, appreciation and respect.
Courtesy almost sounds old fashioned, but even in our modern world while it might not be about tipping our hats and bowing, small gestures like holding an elevator open for someone, or responding to emails even just to acknowledge receipt does oil the wheels of our society. As an interesting experiment with friends over dinner I asked how many incidents of road rage people could recall versus how many incidents of courtesy (not related necessarily to cars!). Unsurprisingly people had tons of examples of road rage and hardly any for courtesy. Courtesy seems also trapped in the cross hairs of gender politics and the ticking time bomb of the politically correct times we live in. Holding a door open for someone of the opposite sex, might be viewed as sexist, offering your seat on the tram to an elderly person might be ageist, what if they are not as old as they look GULP. Or are these excuses just a way of letting ourselves off the hook? While there are no easy answers for situations like holding doors open, courtesy is simply treating other people how you would like to be treated.
Research after research on employee engagement tells us that what people crave most is some appreciation. The boss even saying ‘Great job’ can have a huge impact on our well being and our motivation. One of the best moments of our business lives was receiving a hand written thank you note from a client. It went straight up on our notice board and still lives there.
And finally respect, Kaufman describes this as honouring a person’s status. A recruiter I knew would observe how potential candidates interacted with the receptionist in her practice, and was surprised how often potential candidates were rude to the receptionist, but nice as pie to her, the recruiter.
Kaufman cautions us that it is important to apply the ‘golden trifecta’ to all our interactions not just the important ones, and cites the example of someone who is lovely over dinner but nasty to the wait staff.
I have introduced this to my family by its acronym CAR and now we often tease and pull up each other, and say the ‘R was missing in the CAR’. Our challenge as communicators is to make sure hopefully nothing is missing in our CAR.
*Josh Kaufman is the author of the #1 international bestseller The Personal MBA: Master the Art of Business
In the first 18 months of setting up our business we had a full page article published in the business section of The Age. It was a momentous occasion for us, and our phones were ringing hot and our email inboxes overflowing with good wishes.
The very next day there was a vicious letter in The Age from another consultant, who had taken offense to one statement in the article and used it out of context. Online, another ‘Storytelling expert’ also went ballistic with personal criticism in what felt like a spiteful unwarranted attack that just kept snowballing. It was traumatic and humiliating. At our lowest ebb the phone rang and it was the CEO who we had recently worked with. He had never rung us personally before but he did tell us “first of all well done for standing up for what you believe in”. Then he also said “every time you stick your neck out there will always be someone who will try to kick your head in”. The CEO was not sympathetic, like our friends and family, but had empathy and was also preparing us for what the stakes were when you play in the arena.
It was the most powerful thing anyone could have said to us. It helped us pick up the pieces and move forward, instead of floundering in self doubt. Interestingly we continued to write, publish and grow whereas one of our critics has disappeared (and no we had nothing to do with it!) and the other one has simply earned a vitriolic reputation.
With the passage of time we are able to joke about this, humor is after all sometimes the best coping mechanism.
I was recently given a new frame to think about that experience, in a talk presented by Brené Brown. Brené Brown is a professor and a researcher who’s TED talk in 2010 shot her to international stardom, practically overnight. It was an unexpected and meteoric rise but well deserved and earned.
Brené said that her husband and her therapist had put her in lock down mode and banned her from looking at the comments posted on line about her talk. So what did she do? She immediately went on online and looked at the comments, and people had posted hurtful, spiteful comments like ‘Less research more botox’, ‘Lose 15 pounds and we will be ready to listen to you’. Anonymous comments are the cesspool of the internet. When Brené shared some of these comments, the audience literally gasped. Then Brené said ‘I realized then that when you go into the arena, whatever that is for you, in sport, at work, in life, there is only one guarantee, that you will get your arse kicked’.
She also said when you are picking people up after they had their arse kicked the best thing to say to them is along the lines of ‘That totally sucked, (don’t deny their experience of what is happening to them) but remember…and remind that what they did that was brave or what they stood up for’. That is what the CEO did for us that day in the single phone call, he knew that is what we needed and reached out and pulled us off the floor.
Everyday in organisations, leadership is the largest and most important arena that people play in. But most people don’t often talk about the dark side of leadership and the toll it can take on leaders. The days when leaders stand for something and metaphorically get their head kicked in either by the board, share holders, or peers. Knowing that these are the stakes, might make us risk averse, no one wants to stick their head out, and innovation, opportunity or even simply ‘doing the right thing’ might all sadly wither as a consequence. So if you are a leader or not, prepare yourself for this, as it is the only guarantee in the arena. And every time you see someone getting their arse kicked, reach out and help them back up off the floor. As next time, that could be you.