Putting Your Communication On A Diet

Nov 9, 2022

On the cusp of a new year, many of us start thinking about exercise regimens. But the founders of Politico and Axios recommend we put our “prose on a diet.” In their book, “Smart Brevity,” they spell out effective ways to communicate in a world of 24×7 news cycles and social media.

Theirs isn’t the first book to detail better ways to write. But they do build off the seminal “The Elements of Style” to account for our 21st century digital age.

Citing various research studies, they suggest that we’re “overindulging in words” and that we need to pay attention to how “people consume content,” and to “communicate to save people time.” The key is to get people focused “on what matters most.” That’s what they’ve done with their Axios newsletters, i.e., structured them in a way to inform, but also linking to the details if readers want to go deeper. Go “short, not shallow,” “with simplicity and brevity,” is their mantra.

In order to get people to understand what we’re saying, PR professionals also need to package content so it answers two questions:

  • What’s new? (i.e., tell me something I don’t know.)
  • Why does it matter?

It’s particularly important to be memorable in the subject line, be it in business communications or a story pitch to a reporter. The authors recommend no more than six words, grabbing the reader’s attention.

In the body of a communication, they also recommend bold-facing key points and using bullets to “impose rhythm.”  The first sentence is important because it may be the only opportunity to “tell someone what they need to know.”

Here are other key takeaways, many already known, but still good reminders for anyone in the business of writing and communicating:

  • Single out the person you want to reach
  • Be simple and direct
  • Use the right words
    • As Mark Twain once said, “The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter—it’s the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.”
  • Sharpen thoughts and ideas
  • “Deliver depth, detail and nuance more quickly”
  • Less is more
  • Use active verbs always
  • Write direct, declarative sentences
  • Use one-syllable words in lieu of two- and three-syllable ones
  • “Tell me a story; don’t tell me about a story”

One thing I found interesting was their recommendation to use emojis in e-mail subject lines, as a means to stand out.

The book also includes chapters with best practices for writing e-mails and presentations, running meetings, writing speeches, building visuals, doing social media, and running companies.

The ultimate goal is to “win the war for attention,” and this book provides a worthy playbook for doing so.