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Be Brief, Be Bold, Be Gone When You Speak to Senior Leaders (and Everyone Else)

“Be brief, be bold, be gone” is a perfect description of how to talk to people who are high up in your organization’s food chain.

That’s because many (perhaps most) senior leaders like their information sparse and have famously short attention spans.

But senior leaders aren’t the only ones who value conciseness and clarity.

That’s why “The 3 Bs” can help you shine at everything from giving instructions to answering questions to leading an effective meeting and more.

Every Communication Can Be Brief

Of course, being brief is easier said than done! President Woodrow Wilson is credited with having said, 

If I am to speak for ten minutes, I need a week for preparation…  if [I am to speak for] an hour, I am ready now.

His point was that it’s harder to be brief than long-winded.

Why? Because brevity takes discipline and forethought. You must be clear about,

  • What point you’re trying to make;
  • How to best help your listeners understand that point; and
  • What you don’t need to say to make it (in other words, what you can safely leave out).

Often, you can leave out most of what you were planning to say! As an example, rather than “know what point you’re trying to make,” I could have said,

In order to counter our habitual approach of saying pretty much everything that comes into our minds, most of us need to do some serious thinking in advance of an important conversation, particularly if that conversation involves senior leaders at our organizations. This is important, in part, because many of us tend to digress, use unnecessary words, fall back on the jargon that’s specific to our particular disciplines, and even add phrases that we think, rightly or wrongly, make us sound more knowledgeable or important. In order to rein in this tendency, it would serve us all well to undertake a preparation process that begins with a consideration of which part of the discussion we’re planning is actually essential to comprehension.

Now in fairness, there are some ideas in that paragraph that go beyond my key message (“know what point you’re trying to make”). But none of those ideas were essential to your understanding of my main point; they embellish, but they don’t clarify.

To be brief, leave out anything that’s not essential to your listener’s understanding of your main point.

Every Communication Can Be Bold

It’s hard to speak candidly, because boldness often involves some risk.

When things are bad, we may not want to admit that, even to ourselves. And even when things are going well, we often:

  • Fear how the other person will react;
  • Doubt our own thinking; or just
  • Don’t want to rock the boat.

But boldness — meaning candidness, or honesty — is a gift we can give our listeners and a powerful tool for helping us achieve our own goals.

It’s appreciated by senior leaders because it’s hard for them to get candid input. Your honest opinion, your assessment of “reality on the ground,” can help their decision-making process — and even when your listener isn’t a higher-up, candor levels the playing field because it shows respect for your knowledge and for the other person’s willingness to listen.

One caution, though: Boldness can be blunt, but it’s never rude, tactless, belittling, or bullying. Far from signaling your power, those approaches mark you as weak and insecure (something we’re seeing way too much of in today’s communications climate).

It’s Often Useful to Be Gone

You may have heard the show business axiom,

Always leave them wanting more.

The same is true in communication.

If you stop talking before your listener gets bored (or overwhelmed, or distracted, or saturated), they will come to you for more.

They’ll ask questions. They’ll start a discussion. They’ll request follow-up information.

Even if they don’t, you’ve done your job: You’ve taken a risk, offered an honest perspective, and conveyed your main point as simply as you could.

Now it’s time to leave!

And the chances are good that you’ll be invited back.

image by Brian Mann / Unsplash
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