How to Make a Long Story Short

By Sam Horn
Published on: March 24, 2021

“If you’re long, they’re gone.” – Sam Horn, Intrigue Expert

A tech company hired me to work with one of their managers. My contact said, “Rick (not his real name) is brilliant but he doesn’t know when to stop. People head the other direction when they see him coming because they know he’ll talk their ear off. His meetings take three times longer than they should because he doesn’t know how to put a sock in it. He’s up for a promotion, but he won’t get it unless he learns how to get to the point. Can you help?”

I agreed, and Rick came to work with me for a day at my home office.

An hour into our session, I understood why Rick was all over the map. He had no map, he just said whatever came to mind without asking himself if people wanted/needed to hear it.

He was an engineer, so I knew he’d respect numbers. I suggested he apply metrics to his interactions. “Think about it. Twitter is 280 characters. The message won’t send if it’s longer than that. From now on, give yourself that type of measurable accountability for every communication. In fact, you might want to put an old-fashioned egg-timer on your desk as a reminder to never speak for more than three minutes at a time.”

He frowned, “But what if what I have to say takes longer than that?”

“Then interrupt yourself and ask, ‘Any questions?’ or ‘Want more details?’ or ‘What do you think?’ That will give people a chance to say what’s on their mind so you’re creating a two-way conversation instead of a one-sided monologue.”

Just then, thunder started rumbling in the distance and my Jack Russell, who was terrified of storms, started panting and pacing back and forth. I asked Rick, “Can we take a quick break while I put a ThunderShirt on my dog?”

“What’s a ThunderShirt?”

“It’s a wrap you put on dogs that calms them down because they feel contained instead of having crazy energy that’s all over the place. It’s kind of like swaddling a baby.”

Rick started laughing, “Sam, that’s what you’re doing. You’re putting a ThunderShirt on how I talk so I’m not all over the place and driving people crazy.”

“Bingo. You’ve heard of Parkinson’s Law, a task expands to the time allowed for it? Same thing with communication. In the absence of a time limit, people will go on and on and on.

In fact, you might want to use that egg timer in your meetings and let everyone know they can speak for three minutes max at a time. That forces them to edit themselves and share only what is crucial for the group to know.”

T.S. Eliot said, “When forced to work within a tight framework, the imagination produces its richest ideas. Given total freedom, the work is tempted to sprawl.”

You’ve heard of urban sprawl? From now on, prevent verbal sprawl.

Put a ThunderShirt on how long you talk. No one will ever be angry at you for making a long story short and for taking less time than expected. If they want more detail, they’ll ask.

Want more ways to communicate and connect? Check out Sam’s HOW TO POP masterclass.


Sam Horn

Sam Horn

Sam is the founder and CEO at The Intrigue Agency and author of Got Your Attention? Her keynote addresses receive raves from Intel, Cisco, NASA, Accenture, Boeing, Capital One, and its why her work has been featured in the New York Times, Forbes, INC, and Fast Company.

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