Brevity is the soul of wit?
May 29, 2012 12:35 PM   Subscribe

How did you learn to say more with less?

Those of you who have acquired conciseness, how did you do it?
This thread focuses on writing and the OP.
Instead, I want to know what has helped you become concise (but not terse) in conversation.
It could be anything from an insight to conscious effort, as long as the end result was learning to express a lot of information clearly and in few words.

Thank you!
posted by mkdirusername to Writing & Language (19 answers total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
I still struggle with that. I had an old boss who used to say "Laser with me", and when I start to get rambly I think of that phrase. It actually helps a lot.
posted by facetious at 12:43 PM on May 29, 2012

Best answer: For me it's been a matter of just paying attention to what's coming out of my mouth, which has other benefits also. I got in the habit of interrupting myself and starting over when I realized that I was rambling.

Mostly, I found that when I rambled it was because I wasn't thinking of the simplest expression of the idea; I would interrupt myself to return to it. I also found that I had a conversational habit of trying to include tangential thoughts; pruning those made me a more direct speaker.
posted by fatbird at 12:53 PM on May 29, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: It's a lot like writing. The more I think in advance about what I am going to say or write, the more direct and concise I tend to be.
posted by bearwife at 12:55 PM on May 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I consciously try not to use too many modifier, especially adjectives. I make effort to find a noun that is closer to what I mean, rather than taking the easy way out using a noun that isn't quite and modifying it with an adjective or two.

This results in sparsity, if not conciseness. Try to do this and make what you say useful and it will become concise.

Also, dump any filler words like "that" and "like". And be more sure of yourself by not saying "I think" or such.
posted by doomtop at 12:56 PM on May 29, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I think it's generally better to pause momentarily before speaking to think out what you are going to say. It's remarkable the extent to which you can organize your thoughts even in half a second. No one really seems to mind, particularly when the alternatives are to speak immediately and ramble for a minute, or to pause for a second and speak directly for 20 seconds.

The more accustomed one becomes to thinking before speaking, the more natural it will be, and quicker.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 1:24 PM on May 29, 2012 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I figured out that the things I didn't/wasn't saying were the exact things I should say.
posted by fluffy battle kitten at 1:51 PM on May 29, 2012

"Also, dump any filler words like "that" and "like". And be more sure of yourself by not saying "I think" or such."
This is big. Also, ditch "kind of," and "sort of." And as bad as "I think" is, "I feel" is way worse.

Toastmasters is good for streamlining your speech. Not only are you timed, there's an "Ah" counter on the premises! S/he keeps track of such verbal crumbs.
posted by BostonTerrier at 1:58 PM on May 29, 2012

Best answer: First: expand your vocabulary.

Being able to say, "Dave presented his toast with elan" is more succinct than saying he did so with enthusiasm and vigor. Neither you nor your audience need to know huge, multisyllabic words; you just need to know the right words for the right circumstances. "Elan" may be a poor example as it's not widely used, but you get the point—using one word instead of two or three will endear you to the listener.

Second: imagine your audience recounting the story to someone else.

In your mind, you were on your way to the post office, the small one on Main Street, when the orange Mustang full of teenage hooligans—well maybe they were college-age come to think of it—pulled alongside you on the passenger side and threw that bowling ball out the window at thirty-five miles an hour, causing you to veer off the road and into the fruit stand. When they retell it, mkdirusername was driving down the street when these kids in an orange Mustang threw a bowling ball at him and he crashed into a fruit stand. Omit the mundane details and preserve the salient ones.
posted by Terminal Verbosity at 2:01 PM on May 29, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: When thinking about what you are about to say, figure out the goal of your statement.

If you're going to tell a story, you can meander, but if you are directing someone or asking a question, take a moment to hone in on goal. How much history do you really need to convey? If there's a necessary back story, how does it lead to your final point?

Usually, the context doesn't matter as much as you think it does. If it does matter, someone can then ask for it.
posted by filthy light thief at 2:49 PM on May 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

The big one: Omit Needless Words. The Elements of Style Rule 13. Edit by deletion, not addition.

Remove adjectives and adverbs. For each, ask yourself whether it can come out without changing the meaning. Good writing is mostly nouns and verbs.

Write for your audience. What does the reader want to know? For example (IAAL), when a judge gets a letter, s/he wants to two things: (1) Which case is this? and (2) Which party do you represent?

The case name is in the Subject line, so write only (2).

Thus: "Please be advised that the undersigned is associated with the above-named firm, which has been retained by XYZ Corporation, Inc., the plaintiff herein (hereinafter referred to as "XYZ Corp.") to represent its interests for all pretrial purposes in the above-entitled action."

Becomes: "We represent the plaintiff."

Use short words - 90% should have one or two syllables (as in this message).

Even this much will put you ahead of almost everyone.
posted by KRS at 3:15 PM on May 29, 2012 [2 favorites]

Start at the beginning, figure out where you want to end, and skip the rest.
posted by Blue_Villain at 5:39 PM on May 29, 2012

Get rid of adverbs.
posted by colin_l at 5:43 PM on May 29, 2012

Learn another language? You can't ramble if you don't have enough vocabulary! I find that working on this can change the way you use English, it highlights all the unnecessary stuff you say in your native language just because it's easy to keep talking. But trying to do this in Spanish, say (if it's not your native language) means you have to think really hard about it and it's so much easier to just get to the point and not bother with the other stuff.

Also confidence helps, I think - not feeling like you have to fill up all the available time with more words, because my experience is that all the extra words are over-explaining or rambling on, and if you are confident in the points you want to make, they stand by themselves and there's no need to keep talking once you've made them.
posted by citron at 6:08 PM on May 29, 2012

Best answer: Say what you mean and only what you mean.
posted by cmoj at 6:54 PM on May 29, 2012

Look at some famous examples and consider what they have in common.
posted by wobh at 10:46 PM on May 29, 2012

Practice, and multiple drafts.
posted by davejay at 12:01 AM on May 30, 2012

(that is, taking a moment to think it before I say it.)
posted by davejay at 12:01 AM on May 30, 2012

Response by poster: Thank you for your answers. Collectively, they speak of considering your interlocutor, The Point and how it can be made concisely, and being mindful as a way to create a habit of saying what you mean.

That's a wonderful challenge!
posted by mkdirusername at 12:12 AM on May 31, 2012

Contrasting Terminal Verbosity's suggestion about vocabulary I would suggest that those whose conversation is constrained by lack of knowledge of English can often make better conversationalists than native speakers. Last year I took an intensive French course and initially got to know a number of English speaking class-mates in that language. I found that having to really think about the stories we were going to tell each other - and they way we were going to tell them - made many of us more compelling raconteurs in French than English. So consider expressing yourself in a language you don't know so well.

I believe that the whole process of self editing comes more naturally to introverted people for the same reasons - they need to think of something to say that is compelling enough to overcome the hurdle of the shyness they feel about saying it.
posted by rongorongo at 6:59 AM on May 31, 2012

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