Brevity is the Soul of Business Communications

Is information overload hurting your business. Try these tactics for eliminating distractions.

Times have really changed in recent years, and that affects how we communicate and process information. Take a look at these statistics to understand the amount of information and distractions we encounter every day:

  • In a given day, an American consumes 34GB of content, checks their phone 150+ times, and receives 300+ work and personal emails. That sounds rough across 24 hours … but when you fit that into the eight to ten work hours, that it actually occurs, it is daunting.
  • We focus about six hours — total — per week. In 2000, our attention spans were measured at about 12 seconds. Now they’re at about eight seconds. As social expands and smart-gadgets become more prominent, that will continue to drop.
  • In studies, about 75 percent of people stop (a) listening to a presentation after 1 minute, (b) reading an email after 30 seconds and (c) listening to a co-worker after 15 seconds. That’s and, not or. People do all these things.
  • In a given work day, an American worker is interrupted between 50 and 60 times. Forty percent of the time, they don’t get back on track.

What does it all mean? Well, we get easily distracted, we can’t focus, and we tune out messages quickly, no matter the format. That all sounds absolutely deadly to productivity, communication, and connections in the workplace. So, what is the answer here?

Joe McCormack is a founder and managing partner of the Sheffield Company, whose slogan is mastery of the message.

“I could talk about being brief all day long,” McCormack deadpans. Instead, he boils it down to “the elusive 600.” People have a natural mental capacity to process 750 words a minute, McCormack explains, but we only speak at a rate of 150 words per minute. “If you do the math, brevity is about managing people’s attention” as the spare 600 words rattle their focus.

To keep communications brief, McCormack recommends five strategies:

  1. Don’t over-explain
  2. Use the Ws (why, where, who, etc.)
  3. Replace words with images (not clip art)
  4. Use pauses more
  5. Use a ‘mind map’ (to plot how things will fit together) before you go in.

Staying brief in many areas of business, such as the number of meetings and the time spent in each, how information actually gets processed, daily productivity, and more, can keep employees less distracted and more efficient. Our goal is to make the teams within your organization smarter; our software can help you with that.

AnswerHub can cut back on meetings, presentations, and overloaded inboxes — essentially, many of the tools of the modern business world are not actually advancing the cause of knowledge sharing.

In sum, the argument has always been that “brevity is the soul of wit;” turns out it’s the soul of business communication too. Before you do anything around your work — consider any software, write a marketing campaign, design any layout, institute any process, — consider brevity.