There's a great scene at the beginning of "A River Runs Through It." Young Norman MacClean writes a school essay and hands it to his father, the Reverend MacClean, for review.


One glance and Rev MacClean brandishes a red pencil for edits, returning the essay to a deflated Norman:

"Hmf... now half as long."

This same sequence – writing, handing over, edits, "... half as long..." – plays out twice before Norman meets the Reverend’s standards of brevity and eloquence.

"Hmf... now half as long."

Most sales reps―hell, most business people―would benefit from similar feedback.

I try to say this to our team at least once every day.

"Hmf... now half as long." It’s not a new philosophy:

"The secret of being a bore is to tell everything." -Voltaire

"Be sincere. Be brief. Be seated."

  • FDR

"Hurry up, I'm busy."

  • You, reading this, right now

But think about how many times you've:

  • Caught a client on the phone and tried to explain "what we do"... and heard yourself drone on for 30-45-60 seconds… only to have a client stewing in "talked at" silence on the other end.
  • Talked to client's administrative assistant... and taken 5-6-7 sentences to simply say why you're calling... and he/she still doesn't get it.
  • Met with your boss and asked a really good question... only to then expand on it to provide further (but unnecessary) "context."
  • Reached the outcome you sought in a conversation... but kept on talking, anyway.
  • Written a great two-line email... then added 3 more sentences.

The inability to self-edit has 3 profound repercussions for the speaker and for the listener:

  • it insults the listener;
  • it forces the listener into the uncomfortable position of “fixing” the conversation (or abandoning it entirely); and
  • it makes the speaker look unintelligent (or, at best, really really unprepared).

Respect-earned is largely a function of time-saved (or wasted).

Brevity is not just the soul of wit... it's the soul of progress.

"Rambling length" is synonymous with "unprepared unprofessional."

Conversely, think of how many times you’ve done the following:

  • Fielded a complicated question... paused... thought... and responded with a short and uncomplicated answer.
  • Asked a direct, single-sentence question... and waited.
  • Written a great two-sentence email... and hit send.
  • Said something wise... and sat quietly.

There’s great confidence and power in those moments. There's value in "Hmf… now half as long."

Seize it. Shorten up.