Chris Brogan on the Art of Brevity

In a world of distractions, how do you stand out? Here's some advice for getting in front of your intended audience.
Magazine Contributor
3 min read

This story appears in the March 2011 issue of . Subscribe »

In a world of distractions, how do you stand out? Here's some advice for getting in front of your intended audience.

We live in a world where screens dominate our time. Lots of us sleep with our phones by the bed. (Some will admit to keeping them right under the pillow.) We check e-mail while we're still yawning. Our web browser usually has more than four tabs open. Notifications and distractions ding us all day long.

We have hundreds of TV channels, content backed up on our DVRs, a subscription to Netflix and a few multiplex theaters nearby. We also have YouTube, where every minute another 24 hours of content is uploaded. In other words, we are facing an all-out war on our attention.

Here are some ways you can win it. They all involve brevity.

In writing
Keep your sentences compact. People don't have time to dissect your flowery prose, especially in business. Need help? Read E. Annie Proulx's novel The Shipping News and absorb that style. Short, punchy sentences help people stay on target with you.

On Twitter
Make your stuff easier to retweet. Twitter has a 140-character limit. If you use only 110 or so, you'll give people room to retweet you and, thus, spread your message even further.

Via e-mail
With the Gen Y crowd living on Facebook, e-mail messages need to fit into a smaller package. Two hundred words should be the max. If you need more, then it's a document, not an e-mail--or it's a phone call or even a face-to-face visit. Oh, and put the actionable part at the top once, and at the bottom a second time. We're all scanning.

On YouTube
No matter which video platform you use, make your videos two minutes or less, on average. Yes, if it's a speech--say, a TED talk--it should be longer. But if it's something you want people to consume, stay under two minutes.

By phone
Should you still use a telephone, keep the call brief. Start with an agenda, even if you don't state it out loud. Write it down beforehand so you don't ramble. Be polite, but don't waste five minutes on small talk. And if you get voice mail? Leave your full name, phone number and the subject of the call, then say your number once more before hanging up.

I'm not saying we have to abandon civility. On the contrary, be as polite as possible. But realize the importance of brevity. It's the best way to stand out, get answered and improve your visibility in a crowded world.

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