Book review: What is Your One Sentence? How to be Heard in the Age of Short Attention Spans by Mimi Goss

one sentenceThis review first ran in the March 12 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

What is Your One Sentence? How to Be Heard in the Age of Short Attention Spans

By Mimi Goss

Prentice Hall Press


There’s a foolproof way to pack more punch into your next keynote speech, presentation or report.

Serve up at least one “tweetable” moment and the sooner, the better.

That short and snappy sentence (on Twitter, you get 140 characters) may be the only thing we remember from your talk, pitch or paper. And if you lead with it, we might just follow along from your first to final word.

In the absence of at least one standout sentence, we may never look up from our smartphones or read beyond the opening paragraph in your executive summary.

“If you want people to hear your voice, you must be able to convey your message in one memorable sentence,” is the advice that leads off What Is Your One Sentence? by communications consultant and Harvard University teacher Mimi Goss.

Against the daily flood of tweets, posts and sound bites, Goss says it’s more difficult than ever to cut through the noise and make your point. “In a world in which everyone is bombarded with messages, you must concisely convey your own message.

“People are busy. Can we realistically expect them to sift through hundreds of words, sentences and paragraphs to find the one point — the one sentence — that explains the whole? If we learn to lead consistently with our main message — to distill the essence of our message and our goal into one sentence — we will capture our listeners’ focus, time and energy. In this way, we move our ideas forward, solve problems and achieve our goals.”

Goss says some of us run into trouble because we start talking and writing before we’ve figured out what we hope to achieve by communicating. We have no clue what we want or need from our audience. And when our audience figures out that we’re lost, we lose our audience.

Goss says you absolutely need that one clear, concise and compelling sentence that conveys your most important opinion, decision, feeling, question or directive. It’s a focus that forces you to weed out irrelevant information and overly complex information that muddies the water and leaves us bored, confused and longing for a distraction.

Political consultant James Carville would agree with Goss. The Ragin’ Cajun says his job is to help his clients say less and focus more. For Carville, the hallmark of a successful message is simplicity, relevance and repetition.

With focus and clarity comes confidence and credibility. “When you ramble, appear nervous, or fail to give a clear sense of direction to your communication, you turn people off,” says Goss. “You don’t have credibility. But when you understand your goals, then state your case to your audience in one compelling sentence, you convey confidence and direction. Your confidence captures their attention. Your sense of direction keeps it.”

It also helps to know where you and your audience share common ground. “Your one sentence should appeal to people based on their goals and the goals you share. If you want to connect with another human being, you must think primarily of your audience.”

Goss says powerful sentences share three basic ingredients. Your sentence should include people, action and have some energy-infusing drama or wit. “A memorable one sentence captures the essence of your message, involves an action, and promotes a dialogue with your defined audience, usually to advance a goal. To ask people to care about a topic and take positive action, you must make an emotional connection.”

Deliver on all three fronts and you have a shot at stopping us in our tracks. Surprising us. Inspiring us. Provoking us. Holding our attention. Starting a dialogue. And convincing us to lend you a hand, solve a problem or seize an opportunity.

Writing powerful, standout sentences takes time, practice and discipline. Goss shows how to make your point by quickly getting to the point and delivering tweetable moments.