Balancing Brevity and Verbosity in Business Communications

"The most valuable of all talents is that of never using two words when one will do," proclaimed Thomas Jefferson a few centuries ago. Succinctness seems more valuable in the 21st century, where we’re bombarded by words in spoken and written forms. However, knowing how to be brief is no less critical as knowing when to be brief.

I generally recommend assuming that the audience lacks the time or the inclination to pay full attention to your communication. Some rules of thumb for being brief:

While the advice above might apply to many situations, there are certainly cases where being verbose is preferred:

  • Provide details when responding to a person who explicitly asked for more information
  • Include the necessary supporting figures and data in an appendix to a report
  • Keep the public appraised of the situation when handling an incident, such as a data breach
  • Offer detailed feedback when seeking to change the behavior of colleagues or other people around you
  • Include lots of superfluous, unnecessary or otherwise redundant words when trying to reach the minimum length requirement for your article

The biggest culprit in long-winded communications are, perhaps, presentations that last an hour but feel much longer. I was interested to learn about an approach to presentations that caps the presenter's time at just a few minutes. It can be harder to prepare for and present a short "lightning" talk than a longer one.

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About the Author

Lenny Zeltser develops products and programs that use security to achieve business results. He is the CISO at Axonius and Faculty Fellow at SANS Institute. Lenny has been leading efforts to establish resilient security practices and solve hard security problems for over two decades. A respected author and practitioner, he has been advancing tradecraft and contributing to the community. His insights build upon real-world experience, a Computer Science degree from the University of Pennsylvania, and an MBA degree from MIT Sloan.

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