The Struggle For Brevity

This recent NPR story on the brevity of the Gettysburg Address, Lincoln’s 272 Words, a Model of Brevity for Modern Times got me thinking a bit about training. I’ve often compared training to public speaking and the importance of having those skills, and this is definitely one of those skills.

As Pascal said well back in the 17th century ,” I have made this longer than usual because I have not had time to make it shorter.”

It was true of letters then, it was true of speeches given in the 19th century and it is still very much true of public speaking now. It takes a lot of hard work to say something in fewer words. That’s why the truly best public speakers don’t go over their time. They know how much time they have, and they make sure what they have to say can fit into that time, and if it can’t, they keep working at it until it can. They break everything down to the core message and choose their words carefully to make sure they convey that message without wasting the time of the listener.

It’s not easy, but it can make the difference between an ok presentation, and a memorable one. The same is true of training. A class that takes all day to get around to teaching you what you need to know, is not as good as a class that can get straight to the point and focus in on exactly what you need to know to leave the class ready to dig in using the new tool you are learning about. Granted, training classes can be great and also take multiple days. Sometimes there really is that much to learn. But, even in those classes, it’s important to keep them moving, to break each subject area down to the core and identify exactly what needs to be said here, versus what is superfluous verbiage. I feel like the best trainers can say more, in much less time. Some times, all that extra time is there so we can talk, and keep talking, to make sure we talk about everything, not because you need to know everything, but because we don’t really know what is important, or were too lazy to stop and think about what really needs to be said.

So, the next time you’re sitting in training and the class seems to be dragging on forever, remember Pascal’s words. It’s possible that the training is taking longer because no one took the time to make it shorter.

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