Communicating Effectively Means Recognizing “More is Less”
The doubling of Twitter’s character limit from 140 characters to 280 came as a welcome relief to communicators.
Now they can use twice as many words to say the same thing… and more is always better, right?
In more formal communications, we’re a bit more enlightened. We broadly understand that “less is more,” but we often take it as a suggestion for improvement rather than a clear pitfall.
In my experience, though, “more” is more destructive — and the need for action more urgent — than that phrase implies. The more useful guidance is: “More is less,” emphasizing the handicap over the benefit.
Why More is Less
The handicap is severe. When you jam new points into a single thought, you dilute the impact of all points, compromising your communication goal in many ways.
Consider the immediate impact of this line:
“This approach will make us more productive, efficient, effective, and — ultimately — profitable and successful.”
“This approach will make us more effective.”
The second phrase is more instantly resonant because the words “productive,” “efficient,” “effective,” “profitable” and “successful” are all fighting each other for audience attention.
And while each of these words is independently meaningful, do they carry the same weight in terms of relevance? When you string them together, you don’t make clear the predominant value. Conveying that critical priority is your job as a communicator, but you’re leaving it to your audience.
This doesn’t mean you can’t make multiple points in a single presentation, but give them their own sections. See them as distinct subpoints, not as throw-in adjectives:
“Now that I’ve shown how this approach is more effective, let’s see why it’s also very efficient.”
Whether you frame that as new subpoints or simply “added considerations,” the key is to avoid the addition of words and concepts that detract from your primary point.
Apply the “And” Test
One way to avoid falling into the “more” trap is to apply the “And Test.” The word “and” seems innocent and helpful, but it can easily take you down a road that robs impact from your point. The next time you prepare a presentation, a report, or an email, audit your “ands” by asking yourself each time: Do I need all of these qualifiers? What do I gain and lose by using only the strongest one?
Chances are you’ll gain more than you lose.
This doesn’t mean you need to remove all of your “ands,” but this test is a good way to kick out weaker adjectives and competing ideas, making your most important point — even if it falls well below 280 characters — more memorable.
Joel Schwartzberg is the Senior Director of Strategic and Executive Communications for the ASPCA, a professional communications trainer, and the author of the just-released “Get to the Point! Sharpen Your Message and Make Your Words Matter”