There’s a dorm room that I’ve never forgotten. Looking back now, this room altered the way I live my life. That was 20 years ago. A few friends and I went to a Bible discussion group across campus. We knocked. We crossed the threshold. We were in some sort of Zen garden of tranquility. What enamored me to this room was its simplicity.
Bunk bed- perfectly kempt.
Wall- spare with a calendar
Floor- carpet free from a single crumb or sock
Metal pipe running up wall- held a backpack
Desk- with pencil and paper
Shelf- several textbooks
You’ve likely been in a more typical dorm room. Maybe you lived in one. I can imagine the room of two guys down the hall from mine. It was the end of the school year and time to clean and pack. Josh was in his room “cleaning” with a snow shovel.
…back to the collegiate Zen garden.
What left such an impression on me was the minimalism and the care that was shown. Everything had a place. Nothing was extraneous. Nothing hid in dark corners.
Everything in the room was useful.
Let’s consider our communication like this.
Too often, our receivers are picking up snow shovels to sort through the mess for our message.
As it relates to communication, let’s explore going minimal.
Thursday, November 19, 1863, at the dedication of the Soldiers' National Cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, four and a half months after the Union armies defeated those of the Confederacy at the Battle of Gettysburg, the president shared a message. As the crowd became quiet, Abraham Lincoln took center stage. His speech was expected to somewhat be an afterthought to the main eloquent speaker that day. Edward Everett preceded Lincoln and spoke for nearly two hours. People loved listening to this guy.
What’s the first line of his speech from that day? Oh, right. You don’t know. No one does.
The Gettysburg Address was about as brief as speeches come.
Know how long it took to present? 10 minutes? 5 minutes?
Around 2 minutes. 272 total words.
And it’s known as one of the greatest speeches in American History.
Even the rock-star Everett was quoted afterward as saying, “I wish that I could flatter myself that I had come as near to the central idea of the occasion in two hours as you did in two minutes.”
The crowd isn’t listening and is distracted? It’s mostly your fault. Stop being long winded. If your content isn’t fascinating, make your delivery fascinating.
Above all else, make your communication brief. Of course there is a limit to brevity, and we’ll look at that in a minute. Um…I mean in A SECOND!
Hands up if you love when you have to listen to something boring and long.
No hands up. Ever.
If you hate it, then stop doing it. A few years ago I was asked to emcee a TEDX event. Looking back now, my opening welcome presentation was too long. It’s actually on YouTube. Search “Mike Hall TEDX Hickory”. Over 12 minutes for an introduction was overkill. Think of inviting someone over to your house and they end up staying much later than you wanted them to. You start stretching and saying, “boy oh boy am I tired” or “I’m sure you’ve had a long day LuLu and you have a long 5-minute drive home”. I could swear I saw people stretching and nodding off that day.
TED talks are so popular because they’re not only interesting but brief. One rule at TED is that you can’t take more than 20 minutes. Most TED talks are closer to 10 minutes. We’re more fast paced than we were as a society even 10 years ago. The longer your presentation is, the more you will have to rely on the ideas on the following three chapters such as commercials, props, humor, and media. My presentations at schools are usually 45 minutes. That’s a long time to listen to someone talk. But consider that my audience is usually 13 years old. That’s an eternity to them. I’ve asked kids afterwards if it felt too long. 99 out of 100 responses was no. I lean heavy on everything in this book to maximize my mouth and keep them focused. Most adults afterward are incredulous that I was able to hold their attention for that long.
Some things just cannot be communicated in 5 minutes, or even 20 minutes. But please, make your communication as BRIEF as you can. Leave them wanting more.
If the person you are talking to could remember one thing in your message, what would you want that to be? What do you need that to be?
Before writing that email or walking into that presentation, take a minute to consider this. What is crucial?
Now don’t miss the point in this. Walking into a presentation and saying, “Joe-Bob’s Jerky tastes better than all other jerky. Buy it.”, and then handing out order forms will not win you much business. However, if that is your goal, then build your entire presentation around that phrase.
Drinking from a fire hose.
You’re a bus driver. At the first stop 4 people get on. At the second stop 8 people on, at the third stop 2 people get off and, at the forth stop everyone got off. Wouldn’t you know it; the bus gets a flat tire. It was the left front tire, not the back right tire. While the bus driver was changing the tire, 245,614 people on earth saw the bus on the national news. Please tell me what color the bus driver’s eyes are.
Jokes like that work by filling your brain with loads of information in a very short time span.
In essence, you miss the point. A few years ago something about my son became painfully obvious. It’s amazing to me how quickly he could forget the simplest of instructions.
Boy, go make your bed, bring down your laundry and help your sister with her homework. 15 minutes later I walk upstairs and find him taking a nap. He just plain couldn’t remember everything that had been asked of him. I can only give him at the most, two tasks at a time. The fact that he was taking a nap was partially his fault, but mostly mine. I was shooting him with a fire hose.
Whenever possible, give your info in stages. Don’t give it all at once.
I’d like to introduce you to John Medina, author of the New York Times bestseller "Brain Rules," and a developmental molecular biologist. He has determined the magic number to be 10 minutes that a person can listen attentively and actually have a chance of remembering at least some of what you’ve said. After those 10 minutes there is a steep cliff that your receiver’s attention falls off of.
Present information for 10 minutes. Then give their brain a break. Show a them a picture. Tell a joke. Have them write something. Whatever you choose, the break must use a different part of their brain.
According to Medina, the key is to trigger your receiver’s emotions, but not to an extreme. If the emotional reaction is severe, it will be difficult to get them back on track with the point of your communication.
Giving a sermon? 10 minute intervals
Tutoring someone in Spanish? 10 minute intervals
Giving a sales pitch to an audience? 10 minute intervals
TV networks are obviously wise to the game. Flip on an episode of Pawn Stars and you’ll see six to seven minutes of the show before a two or three-minute commercial break. Repeat this and you’ve got your 30-minute television show recipe.
Peer with me back into that college dorm room.
Let’s do our receivers a favor, and communicate this way whenever possible. You just might find that people begin to enjoy listening and learning from you a whole lot more.