Two elements include the ability to be clear and concise. The more they work together, the more likely others will understand. Too many words may create a muddled message. It will turn off your audience; your children, your parents, your employees, or the board of directors. They’ll simply stop listening. Too few, and you may not get your point across.
We watched this tension play out in autumn 2012, amid preparation for the presidential election debates. President Obama had been criticized for being long-winded and professorial. Fine when you’re a professor. Not so fine when trying to make a point to 300 million listeners. It is the difficult task of saying what needs to be said, and being listened to.
Presenting complex information, correcting misinformation, or presenting a rhetorical argument requires time. It may include the need to present a premise or philosophy, i.e., “the protection of retirement benefits,” followed by a multi-stepped plan, and countering an opposing point of view.
If information is not presented clearly, that is, complete, orderly, and tailored to your audience—the message may lie somewhere in the spectrum between incomplete and incoherent.
Take too long—you lose your audience. But brevity may result in a poorly formed argument.
It is said that the average listener can hold three ideas at once. Add a fourth, and one drops out. Others say the average attention span lasts about 17 minutes. Across the duration of a 90-minute debate, you may only have eight minutes to communicate what’s necessary, before your opponent drives them to the point of distraction.
The moral is not unlike an Aesop fable. Tell a story. Make it memorable. Rehearse. And consider brevity part of your rhetorical arsenal.