As I continue to meet wise and intelligent individuals, I’ve begun to understand that there is a unique trait that sets them apart: The ability to take dense subject matter and explain it in a way that is quickly & easily understood. Looking back, my favorite professors and teachers don’t puff up their pride with big words and thick phrases to appear smart. Instead, they synthesize down their stores of knowledge into digestible ideas so that students can make connections.
I’ve seen this quality of communication prevalent in the best leaders, writers, marketers, pastors, counselors, and… oh yes, emailers!
Messaging that is simple and succinct (thought credit: Clint Antholz) has a way of cutting through the noise of everything else that is superfluous and wordy. That doesn’t mean that your big vocabulary has no place, but in almost every form of communication I can think of, the heart of your point is more effective when it’s kept plain and brief.
Trim the “Fat”
Brevity makes sure that your point is heard.
If you can say the same thing with fewer words, why drag it on? It may take more of your time to cut out unnecessary content but it makes the journey of reading or listening so much more palpable, and your audience will be more likely to stay along for the ride.
“That’s all I have to say about that”
Simple Doesn’t Mean Stupid
Simplicity makes sure that your point is understood.
One of my favorite movies is Disney Pictures’ Treasure Planet. An early scene in the film depicts two characters engaged in a flowery dialogue and argument in the captain’s quarters of a galaxy-traveling vessel. The bright and capable Captain Amelia of the R.L.S. Legacy and the financier who hired her, Dr. Delbert Doppler, debate for a while using hard-to-follow academic speech, before the ship’s captain simplifies her words to make a point:
Amelia: "Let me make this as...monosyllabic as possible; I don't much care for this crew you hired…”
She then reverts back to her previous mode of speaking with:
“...They're- [to her first mate, Mr. Arrow] how did I describe them, Arrow?"
Arrow: "A ludicrous parcel of driveling galoots, ma'am."
The scene sticks out to me for highlighting a key principle of human communication (although the characters in the movie aren’t technically humans). No matter who you are speaking to, simplicity guarantees your point will be understood.
It’s important to distinguish here that putting information into simpler phrases shouldn’t take away from the whole of what you are trying to say. Sometimes you won’t be able to explain everything that you need to in simple language. That’s completely ok! This technique doesn’t need to be in every facet of communication. But when used appropriately, a humbler vocabulary can give you the confidence to make a statement without asking “does that make sense?” to your readers or listeners.
I hope this article brought you some value and helps you become a better writer, speaker, marketer, or even a better friend.