Less is More: Keep Your Message Short and Sweet

This is perhaps the shortest story ever written:

For sale

Baby shoes

Never worn.

That is not the title, it’s the whole story. But is it really a story? Does it contain all the elements of a story – character, plot, a crisis and resolution, a human element? I believe that it does, and I give my reasons below. But think about it yourself first.

The eager young salesman ignores his prospect’s buying signals and plows ahead with his full presentation. He knows his pitch back to front and is determined to overwhelm his prospect with irrefutable evidence, arguments, and testimonials. He ends up talking himself out of the sale.

A negotiator has many reasons why his counterpart should accept his proposal. He offers them all. His counterpart focuses on the weakest one and ignores the others.

The judge orders counsel to submit briefs of no more than fifteen pages. Lawyer A presents arguments all the way down to the last line of page fifteen. Lawyer B makes a cogent case in eleven pages. Guess who makes the better impression?

Many people in persuasion mode believe that if some is good, more is better. But in persuasion, as in so many areas, less is more.

A famous quote (attributed to numerous sources) goes something like this: “I’m sorry for writing such a long letter, but I didn’t have time to write a short one.” A long, rambling letter is the product of rushed or muddled thinking. A short document requires deliberation.

Don’t make your audience do the work of sifting the wheat from your chaff. Do it for them. Get clear on your message and deliver it succinctly.

And now for my interpretation of the very short story above:

The characters are a heartbroken couple. They lost their only child before or shortly after birth. They are dirt poor, or they would not have to sell the shoes. They live in a dirt poor country or village, or there would be no buyer for the shoes. This would have been their only child, or the shoes (given their poverty) would have been hand-me-downs and not new. 

This story could not have been told in just five words, and a seventh would have been superfluous. Six perfect words. 

Beat that if you can!

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