by Bryan Heathman
Have you ever gotten an electronic message and wondered when the author was going to get to the point? It hurts, doesn’t it?
It’s not that they were trying to waste your dwindling time with turgid prose reminiscent of Longfellow’s epic Song of Hiawatha. It’s just that you simply couldn’t fit their rambling stanzas about “the shores of Gitche Gumee” into your Twitter-constricted schedule.
Let’s talk about how you can avoid becoming a text statistic, like your friend or colleague here.
In our world of shrinking sound bytes, this shortage of attention means it’s more essential than ever to get to the point quickly. This doesn’t mean communication is becoming superficial. Far from it. It’s just more dense.
Is Brevity Beautiful or Banal?
In many ways, e-messages and social media present a new abbreviated form of communication so full of layered meaning, it’s almost poetic. The Japanese form of poetry known as the haiku has been lauded, jeered at, sneered at and ultimately left alone by Western society. Or has it?
I’ll bet if you look closely, you’ll find that this 3-line, 17-syllable poetic format is the close cousin to many of the news bytes and electronic messages you read today.
For example, see if this 3-line poem looks familiar…
Meeting is at ten
Bring me coffee and donuts
See you with bells on
Not an office jockey? Perhaps you might recognize this 17-syllable take on world news that could easily appear in a Yahoo feed…
Pod lands on comet
Rosetta makes history
Film at eleven
If you’re at all athletic, you might relate to this well-deserved gloat, inspired by the thrill of victory…
Smoked the tennis match
They said it couldn’t be done
Look out, Federer
I offer these examples to make a point. As silly as it may seem to compare daily drivel with a great and noble poetic art form, the aim is the same. Capture attention with compelling brevity, and communicate worlds of meaning in as brief a space as possible.
Wooing the Elusive Attention Span
Obviously your own messages don’t have to rhyme or be limited to three lines to be effective. However brevity is the soul of wit. You can win over your audience by respecting their tight schedules and their often harried frame of mind.
Borrowing the acronym AIDA from the world of Sales, here is a technique you can adopt to make your written messages matter and move your readers to epic action.
- A)ttention: To open, ask a question or make a statement that introduces your topic. Eg: “Is eating dinner important to you?”
- I)nterest: Present the meat of the message, and state clearly why you’re initiating the contact. Eg: “I thought I might sport you to a meal tomorrow night.”
- D)esire: Back up your message with relevant information so your audience can delve deeper if they desire. Cite sources and give links whenever it makes sense to do so. Eg: “This reviewer suggests linguine: http://MamaLovesItalian.com”
- A)ction: Summarize the reason for your contact, and use a call to action if there’s a specific result you’d like to see. Eg: “Let’s mix things up a bit this week and have some fun. Ping me back with your reply, and I’ll make reservations.”
Following this formula can take you from zero to hero in 17 syllables or less. Coincidentally, this is also just about 140 characters, or the limit of half the world’s attention these days. I’m sure you get the point.