Review: Joseph McCormack’s Brief – Make a Bigger Impact by Saying Less

briefThis review first ran in the March 31st edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

Brief: Make a Bigger Impact by Saying Less

By Joseph McCormack



If you’re at the podium and I’m in the audience, know that I’m putting you through the Twitter test.

I used to bring a notebook to speeches and presentations. Now I take out my smartphone.

I like to tweet the best lines, punch lines and headlines from speeches and presentations.

Invariably, the most powerful and persuasive talks – the ones that grab an audience’s attention and challenge what we feel, think or do- are loaded with tweetable moments. These moments become fewer and farther between as presentations slide from pedestrian to painful.

So before you stand and deliver,ake the key points you want to make. Why are you talking with us? What do you want from us?

Wrestle the answers until they fit within 140 character tweets.

Your easily distracted, mentally stretched, information-overloaded and impatient audience will thank you for it. And it will make you a far more effective communicator.

Brevity is the order of the day whether you’re talking to one person or an audience of 100 people, says Joseph McCormack, author of Brief: Make a Bigger Impact by Saying Less.

“These days, it’s no longer possible to get by on the merit of your idea, title or allotted time. You have to put it in a smaller package and make it easier to consume and digest.”

Here’s why you need to avoid the slow buildup. We’re drowning in a flood of information. The average professional gets 304 emails a week. She checks her smartphone 36 times an hour. Her attention span has shrunk from 12 seconds in 2000 to just eight seconds in 2012.   She spends 56 seconds looking at a webpage and 3.95 minutes watching a YouTube video. So how much time is she going to give you?

“If you can’t capture people’s attention and deliver your message with brevity, you’ll lose them. When they don’t get the clarity they need quickly, they check out. Get to the point or pay the price.”

Don’t simply approach brevity from the point of view of time, says McCormack. It’s not how long you talk. It’s how long your talk feels to the audience. Some hour-long talks feel like 10 minutes. Far too many feel like 10 hours. Make every minute and every word count.

Smart people talking to busy people forget to be brief thanks to the seven deadly sins of cowardice, confidence, callousness, comfort, confusion, complication and carelessness.

One way to avoid sinning is to start with an outline. Always map out what you’re going to say. “The path you plan to follow must be crystal clear before starting.”

And do your homework.  To be clear and concise, you need to dive deep into the issue you’re presenting.  You can’t summarize without thorough knowledge.

“The road to brevity requires hard word and lots of time. Doing all the digging and analysis on your own time saves the members of your audience from doing the labour themselves,” says McCormack. “Nobody likes assembling toys on Christmas Eve and people don’t enjoy exerting energy assembling random words and thoughts.”

McCormack shows how to be brief in key conversations that are critical to your professional well-being, from presenting to senior executives and closing sales with clients to delivering good and bad news and using social media.

So the next time you go up to the podium or step into the executive boardroom, stop dishing out the verbal equivalent of a seven course meal. What your audience really craves are tapas with no assembly required.

Published by

Jay Robb

I've reviewed more than 500 business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999 and worked in public relations since 1993.

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