Skip to main content
The Globe and Mail
Support Quality Journalism.
The Globe and Mail
First Access to Latest
Investment News
Collection of curated
e-books and guides
Inform your decisions via
Globe Investor Tools
per week
for first 24 weeks

Enjoy unlimited digital access
Enjoy Unlimited Digital Access
Get full access to
Just $1.99 per week for the first 24 weeks
Just $1.99 per week for the first 24 weeks
var select={root:".js-sub-pencil",control:".js-sub-pencil-control",open:"o-sub-pencil--open",closed:"o-sub-pencil--closed"},dom={},allowExpand=!0;function pencilInit(o){var e=arguments.length>1&&void 0!==arguments[1]&&arguments[1];select.root=o,dom.root=document.querySelector(select.root),dom.root&&(dom.control=document.querySelector(select.control),dom.control.addEventListener("click",onToggleClicked),setPanelState(e),window.addEventListener("scroll",onWindowScroll),dom.root.removeAttribute("hidden"))}function isPanelOpen(){return dom.root.classList.contains(}function setPanelState(o){dom.root.classList[o?"add":"remove"](,dom.root.classList[o?"remove":"add"](select.closed),dom.control.setAttribute("aria-expanded",o)}function onToggleClicked(){var l=!isPanelOpen();setPanelState(l)}function onWindowScroll(){window.requestAnimationFrame(function() {var l=isPanelOpen(),n=0===(document.body.scrollTop||document.documentElement.scrollTop);n||l||!allowExpand?n&&l&&(allowExpand=!0,setPanelState(!1)):(allowExpand=!1,setPanelState(!0))});}pencilInit(".js-sub-pencil",!1); // via darwin-bg var slideIndex = 0; carousel(); function carousel() { var i; var x = document.getElementsByClassName("subs_valueprop"); for (i = 0; i < x.length; i++) { x[i].style.display = "none"; } slideIndex++; if (slideIndex> x.length) { slideIndex = 1; } x[slideIndex - 1].style.display = "block"; setTimeout(carousel, 2500); } //


By Joseph McCormack

(John Wiley, 234 pages, $29)

Story continues below advertisement

To be effective in a world of information overload and distraction, you must be brief.

That's the essential message of a new book by consultant Joseph McCormack, a specialist in message development. At one level, it's all you need to know about Brief, and I could have stopped writing at the end of the last paragraph.

But he doesn't stop with that point, as there always can be more to be said. So his message is actually more elaborate. We need to be brief, understand how to do that, and understand what brief means in different contexts. We also need to accept his opening comment that if you think you already are brief, you're wrong. Most of us can improve.

He sets out an intriguing concept, which he labels "the elusive 600." People speak at about 150 words a minute, yet we have the mental capacity to consume about 750 words a minute – five times what is typically spoken. While you are speaking, the targeted recipient of the message has extra mental bandwidth to play with other thoughts. That person can become distracted, as other ideas pop to mind, perhaps triggered by your words. You need to gain and hold their attention, for which brevity is essential.

Brevity, he stresses, is about more than actual duration. It's about how long a presentation appears to the audience. "It's not about using the least amount of time. It's about making the most of the time you have," he writes. "It's a balancing act of being concise, clear and compelling. All three need to be in harmony."

He cites seven reasons why we struggle with brevity:

Cowardice: We drown people in possibilities in order to avoid taking a stand.

Story continues below advertisement

Confidence: We know the material so well we could talk about it for days – and do.

Callousness: We don't respect other people's time. We ask for a minute of their time with no intention of honouring that request.

Comfort: Once we get talking, it's comforting, so we roll on and on.

Confusion: Lacking clarity, we think out loud.

Complication: The issue we're dealing with is intricate and we don't believe it can be explained simply. But our job is to simplify when everyone we approach is so busy and distractible.

Carelessness: We don't filter what we say, just letting words spill out.

Story continues below advertisement

He urges us to heed the advice of our high school English teacher on the importance of outlines. Professionals believe that's beneath them, he notes, particularly before a big pitch or meeting. "It's a huge mistake to make, especially when you consider the vast amount of information you have to handle, distill, and disseminate in these situations," he writes.

He suggests trying "mind mapping" to get your ideas organized before writing a report or making a presentation. Usually that involves unleashing the ideas in haphazard fashion on paper to find links and structure. He offers a model, a BRIEF map, which allows you to improve communication by simplifying complex messages into a one-page visual outline.

At the centre is a box, labelled BRIEF, in which you put your headline message. In the example he uses, of a project update to the CEO, "The project is on schedule." The boxes around it are:

B, for Background/Beginning: How do you start, which means focusing on the context – the reason you are there. In the example, it's explaining that a question by the CEO prompted this update.

R, for Reason: Why are you speaking right now? Why is it urgent and relevant to the recipient of the information? Why should they pay attention when so much else is on their mind?

I, for Information: What is the core information you want to share? Don't go overboard. In the example, the presenter settles on three bullet points: Where has there been progress? Is the project still on schedule? What specifically is needed?

Story continues below advertisement

E, for Ending: You must figure out how to conclude your report. In the example: "I will get you a price summary and the new timeline tomorrow."

F, for Follow-up questions: You need to consider questions that might be asked and develop answers. Considering follow-up questions in advance might allow you to make your BRIEF map clearer and tighter – not more elaborate and longer.

"Brevity is all about preparation and preassembly," he insists.

Beyond that, he urges you to consider concise storytelling to maintain attention. As well, reduce the amount of time you allocate for meetings, rather than routinely allocating an hour when 40 minutes might be sufficient. Also, leave a smaller digital imprint, exercising self-control in your e-mails. He points to one executive who writes e-mails on a smartphone and limits each message to what will fit on a little screen without scrolling, keeping him from rambling on.

If you try the long version of Brief, you'll find the book well-organized, with lots of tips to make your messages more compelling.


Story continues below advertisement

In Closing The Mind Gap (BPS, 382 pages, $29.95) Ted Cadsby, a corporate director and former executive vice-president of retail distribution at Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, explores how the mind works and how we can better deal with a world of complexity.

Ed Catmull, co-founder of Pixar Animation Studios, distills the principles of innovation he learned in Creativity, Inc. (Random House of Canada, 340 pages, $32), written with journalist Amy Wallace.

In Austerity: The Great Failure (Yale University Press, 219 pages, $29.25) historian Florian Schui shows how arguments for austerity have been grounded in moral and political considerations rather than economic reality.

Harvey Schachter is a Battersea, Ont.-based writer specializing in management issues. He writes Monday Morning Manager and management book reviews for the print edition of Report on Business and an online work-life column Balance. E-mail Harvey Schachter

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

  1. Follow topics and authors relevant to your reading interests.
  2. Check your Following feed daily, and never miss an article. Access your Following feed from your account menu at the top right corner of every page.

Follow the author of this article:

View more suggestions in Following Read more about following topics and authors
Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies