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Motivation: Brevity: The essence of effective communication

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Reflections-By Dr Rajan Philips

The essence of effective communication


( This motivational article was published in Oman Observer , one of the leading Newspapers in Oman. The article is reproduced with the permission of the author )

REFLECTION -By Dr Rajan -After 27 long years Nelson Mandela, the iconic South African


leader was released from prison on February 11, 1990, by the apartheid regime. It was a truly treasured moment in history. As he appeared at the gates of the Victor-Verster Prison, he delivered a remarkable speech that marked the end of apartheid. How long did the speech go? Five minutes!

The importance of brevity for effective communication, can never be over emphasised.

People sit through weary business conferences and deliberations when they have no option but to stay. Committees they say spend hours to keep minutes. But unless a clear message is conveyed quickly and precisely it is sheer waste of time and human resources.

The normal grouse against very scholarly speakers with all the knowledge in the world but who fail to stir the audience is that they take too long to get to the point, or get bogged down with complex and intricate details. In the process they put their audience to sleep.

According to a Forbes magazine estimate most speeches run over 40 minutes. But Ron Huff in his book Say It in Six suggests six minutes or shorter as the ideal time for a speech.

The customary project speeches at Toastmasters International sessions run from five to seven minutes and are generally well received. They are obviously quite in line with the Ron Huff principle.

In fact, some of the greatest speeches in terms of memorable contexts and lasting impact were of even shorter duration. It is said that Winston Churchill’s oratory saved Britain from defeat in World War II. His Never Give In speech lasted just six minutes and the oft quoted Blood Sweet and Tears was even shorter, lasting under three minutes.

Dale Carnegie acclaimed for his How to Win Friends and Influence People wrote another useful book, Effective Speaking. In this book the author suggests the need for precision and clarity of expression. An illustrative anecdote would illuminate a concept quickly saving a lot of long winding and tedious explanations.

Brevity implies being short, but it does not mean being shallow or superficial. We ought to structure our talk well and stay focused. We will then carry the audience with us and put them in an interactive mode.

Communication gurus have come up with the catchy acronym K.I.S.S. to convey the principle and virtue of effective communication. K.I.S.S. stands for Keep It Short and Simple.

Centuries ago the immortal English Bard William Shakespeare hit the nail on the head when he had Polonius, a key character in the play Hamlet saying: Brevity is the soul of wit. The maxim implies that articulate and intelligent communication necessitates only a few wisely chosen words. Good speakers go straight to the point without beating around the bush.

In conclusion, let us take a look at one of the greatest historic speeches — the November 19, 1863, Gettysburg Address by US President Abraham Lincoln. It was primarily delivered to remember the dead in the Civil War fought over the issue of slavery and national integrity.However, the speech has assumed iconic status for a related reason. We have in it the unforgettable lines at the end, ‘that government Of the People, By the People, and For the People… shall not perish from the earth”. These have been extensively quoted and enshrined as the definition and essence of Democracy. The text of the speech is well below 300 words and Lincoln delivered in a matter of two or three minutes. Think of it! Brevity is indeed the essence of successful communication.

Be sincere; be brief; be seated. — Franklin D Roosevelt
Good things, when short, are twice as good. — Anon.

Articles by Dr.Rajan Philips

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