Short Sounds Confident

Always go for brevity.

By Dr. Lois Frankel (President, Corporate Coaching International)

This post originally appeared on

A preamble is a concoction of words and non-words used before a speaker makes the main point. It’s like a closet filled with clutter. When your closet is packed with clothes you don’t actually wear, you can’t find the most important items in your closet. The same is true with words. The more words you use, the more diffused your message becomes and the less likely it is the listener will hear your unique message.

In short, go for brevity.

Here’s a doozy of a preamble that someone may lead with at a meeting:

You know, I was thinking about this problem we’re having with productivity. A lot of us share the same concerns over reduced productivity during the last three quarters, so I’m not alone in this. It’s something we’ve known about for a long time but haven’t measured. At any rate, we’ve all been trying to find a way to address it and I think I may have come up with an idea.

Or, this person could have said:

Productivity is an issue we’ve struggled with for some time now and I have a proposal for addressing it.

Women may use preambles as a means to soften their messages for fear of being perceived as too direct or aggressive. But men use preambles sometimes too, at a high cost. Being unnecessarily wordy often implies nervousness.

Let your mantra be: Short sounds confident. If your message is an important one, hone it using as few words as possible. Organize your thoughts before you open your mouth by asking yourself two simple questions:

  • What’s my main topic?
  • What two or three points do I want the listener to consider?

To sound confident and authoritative, give your bottom line first.

The counterpoint to the preamble is the lengthy explanation. You finally make your point — then undermine it with an even longer explanation that causes others to mentally check out. Let’s continue with the example above, where this person’s message continues to crash and burn, this time with too much explaining:

…Other people have ideas, too, but I’ll leave it up to them to share those with you. Now, my idea involves doing some kind of a climate survey. You know, the kind where we go out to the employees and ask them questions about their processes, job satisfaction, relationships with their supervisor, and so on. We can either use an outside consultant or our own staff. If it’s alright with you, I would be willing to look into what the best way to accomplish this would be. Or, if you prefer, you can name a task force to investigate options.

Why do people keep talking?

The speaker may be overcompensating for an insecurity. They may fear they haven’t been thorough enough. Thus, their thinking is: the more they talk, the better case they make. When in fact, the opposite is true.

Those who use preambles and who explain excessively could be saying what they need to say in 75% fewer words, conserving everyone’s time and attention. More importantly, one can make his or her point with substantially greater impact by doing so concisely!

Short sounds confident.

As a general rule, whether you’re talking to your boss, explaining something to your coworker or contributing in a meeting, shorten your explanations by 50 to 75 percent. Aim to make your point using at least half as many words.

(This is also a useful hack for sending emails that people read and take seriously. Take the number of words you think you need to say what you need to say, and cut it in half. That’s how many words you should use).

When speaking, resist the internal error message that says, Incomplete. Saying everything you know related to a topic isn’t necessary. If it’s acknowledgement when you’re finished speaking that you want, your silence will be the cue for others to say something.

Does that sound challenging? In many ways, it is!

But remember: short sounds confident.

About the guest blogger: Dr. Lois P. Frankel is the president of Corporate Coaching International. She's a bestselling author, executive coach, and an internationally-recognized expert in the field of leadership development for women. Follow her on Twitter at @DrLoisFrankel.