Retail Observer

October 2020

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RETAILOBSERVER.COM OCTOBER 2020 48 H ave you noticed that the people who talk the most seem to have the least to say? That question may have been on the minds of some of the folks who gathered in Gettysburg, PA on November 19, 1863. Four months after the most decisive battle of the American Civil War, the US government decided to dedicate a new National Cemetery to bury some of the more than 50,000 soldiers who died there. To consecrate that hallowed ground, more than 15,000 people were present for the day-long dedication, including six state governors and dignitaries from across the Union. The highlight of the day was to be a special Gettysburg address, delivered by a man who, beyond being a prominent national leader, was considered the greatest orator of his day. That man's name: Edward Everett. For two long hours, Everett delivered an elegant and erudite reflection on the impact of the battle and its place in history. Finally, after he finished, the Baltimore Glee Club sang an ode written especially for the occasion. Then, to close out the day, President Abraham Lincoln was scheduled to deliver a few "dedicatory remarks." What came next, as every grade schooler knows, was the most famous speech in American history. LESS IS MORE Lincoln delivered only 272 words in his Gettysburg address, about one-fiftieth the length of Everett's. The speech was so short that most people were too stunned to applaud when he finished. But the brilliance of the address was soon recognized. The next day, Everett wrote Lincoln a letter of admiration, saying, "I wish that I could flatter myself that I had come as near to the central idea of the occasion, in two hours, as you did in two minutes." The power of the Gettysburg Address lies in its brevity. It's a lesson that is just as true for any communicator today. EPIC STORIES To demonstrate the importance of brevity, I often conduct an exercise in my workshops. "Grab a pen and write down the complete story of your college experience," I ask my clients. "The whole thing – what you did and how it changed you. You have three minutes." Then, after the inevitable groans, I say: "Oh, and you have to do it all in six words. Any six words, any way you like them." What follows is often the most remarkable portion of any workshop. In six words, people become poets, philosophers, comics. Here's a small sampling from one recent workshop: Straight-A student, but no boyfriend. More to life than work? Probably. Eat, sometimes sleep, coffee. Then, success. Outdoors, friends, frisbee, and smelly basements. Failed the final. Got the girl. The gambit of the six-word story is nothing new. The canonical example, often misattributed to Hemingway, is the wonderful: "For sale: Baby shoes, never worn," which dates back to the early 20th century. The concept lives on in Internet memes and online competitions. The appeal of the six-word story is the same as Lincoln's Gettysburg Address. Each of them is essential. When you choose to limit the word count, you are forced to boil things down. There's no room to indulge needless details. There's just the truth as you see it, with none of the blather that accompanies so much writing in business and work. At a deeper level, adhering to a ridiculously short word count exposes the artistic sensibility of the author. Beneath every concrete detail is a layer of emotion that accompanies the writer's connection to it, and that joy, that sadness, that bittersweet love gets constellated in the way the writer stages the words. An authentic voice is often revealed best when the message is truncated by design. Perhaps the most important reason we love brevity done well is that it teases our innate sense of narrative. A terrific six-word story provides just enough information to provoke our imagination of the broader drama in which it's grounded. And so we conjure up the details, we fill in the blanks, and we overlay our own experiences for fun. Fewer words offer our minds more freedom to participate. Remember this the next time you have a difficult communication challenge. Ask yourself (or your whole team): What's the complete message in six words? Then sit back and enjoy. GOT A LOT TO SAY? THEN DON'T SAY IT ALL Mario Juarez Business Mindset RO Mario Juarez is an organizational consultant, coach, and motivational speaker. He focuses on helping organizations and individuals achieve better business results through strategic storytelling. An award-winning former journalist, Mario led a series of innovative communications initiatives at Microsoft before founding his company, StoryCo, which serves clients across a range of industries.

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