The Brevity Mandate


Joe McCormack
Joe McCormack

If you cannot manage people’s inattention, you’ll likely mismanage your career.

Attention spans are in a tailspin. In 2000, the average was 12 seconds and now it’s only eight. Professionals are interrupted 50-60 an hour, often unable to get back to the task at hand. The majority of people admit ignoring half the e-mails they get every day.

Brevity is emerging as a new business basic. In my new book Brief: Make a Bigger Impact by Saying Less (Wiley & Sons, Feb. 2014;, I outline the reasons why professionals struggle with brevity and how to embrace a “less is more” mentality.

For starters, the discipline to capture and manage elusive mindshare now shapes and defines professional success. Shorter e-mails, better organized updates, and tighter and more engaging presentations are immediate indicators that you’ve got what it takes to succeed in an attention economy.

Getting to the point is a non-negotiable standard. The reasons why are plentiful (

Ten years ago, brevity was a nicety and meant primarily for long-winded types that couldn’t shut up. Today, being clear and concise is an absolute necessity; it’s what successful people expect to see – and get quickly frustrated when it’s missing.

The mandate goes far beyond knowing the importance of brevity; it means the discipline of doing something about it.

Since raising your awareness isn’t enough, here are three things you can do to make an immediate, noticeable shift:

1. Take more time to prepare. It takes a concerted effort in advance to be brief. Write down your main point and three key ideas before you walk into your next meeting or jump onto the next conference call.

2. Respect people’s scarce time. Remember that other people’s time is as valuable as your own. When you sense you’re getting on a roll, it’s time to wrap it up.

3. Empathize with their inattention. Be convinced that the people you communicate with are buried and can’t handle another ounce. With a deeper sense of understanding, you’ll trim information when others go pile on.

Brevity is your professional responsibility. Though it may seem obvious, it really is hard work that requires constant vigilance and discipline. The payoff, however, is worth it when you, your ideas and company clearly and quickly stand apart.

Joe McCormack is recognized for his work in narrative messaging and corporate storytelling. He is managing director and founder of the Sheffield Company ( An experienced marketing leader and author, he founded The BRIEF Lab ( in 2013 after years dedicated to developing and delivering a unique curriculum on strategic narratives for U.S. Army Special Operations Command (Ft. Bragg, NC). He actively counsels military leaders and senior executives on key messaging and strategy initiatives.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *