Ask What is Crucial. Strike Everything Else. — An Excerpt from Unleashing Your Superpower
“The ability to simplify means to eliminate the unnecessary so the necessary may speak.”
– Hans Hoffman
I vividly remember the first paper I submitted in graduate school. I was rather proud of it, actually. I put a lot of thought and work into the paper. I was quite certain it was probably the best in the class.
But my English professor didn’t see my work in exactly the same light. My masterpiece was returned to me, bleeding a slow death of red ink, with a note asking me to speak with her.
How could this be? My undergraduate English professors loved my work. Though they consistently offered ways to improve, they never totally rejected my writing. But, in this case, I was called out for verbosity. In my quest to appear smart, I’d loaded every paragraph with every concept within the universe. And as a result, I’d failed. Miserably.
I’d like to say that my “masterpiece” just needed some slight revisions. But, in reality, it needed total reconstruction. My writing needed to be reborn.
I’m convinced that as you’ve started drafting your thoughts, you’re a lot closer to your intent than I was with my first grad school paper. But there’s likely some bloat. As you craft your message, read with a critical eye. You’ll likely immediately begin to see what needs to be trimmed. Focus on eliminating any and all unnecessary elements.
Let’s go ahead and get this out there now: Most likely your users won’t care as much as you do. So give them only what’s necessary.
One of the greatest lessons Twitter has taught me is how to reduce content and communicate only what’s most important. Maybe you’ve done this too: You type out your tweet and it’s 180 characters long. You then begin to remove unnecessary words, even letters, until you hit that magical 140.
This is the same process that I’m advocating for here, just on a larger scale. Take out your red pen. Start striking through non-crucial elements. Ask yourself what details really don’t matter. Everything else must go!
But what I mean by that is that it must go for now. Just for now. There’s probably value in that content, just not quite yet – not here in the core. Don’t discard it; just file it away for now. There may well be some very important points in there that will come in handy later.
Think in terms of creating an inverted funnel of information, and share that information in stages. For example, if your messaging lives in an online petition, you can capture email addresses as people sign it. If they allow you to keep the communication alive via email, you can develop a campaign that feeds them this additional information. You can take a similar approach if you’re communicating about a product you’re selling.
Prior to Twitter, most of us didn’t appreciate the value of shorter messages. But shorter is where we’ve arrived. Facebook is now prompting you to write more succinct messages. They know people will respond better, and so they’ll put it in a bigger font.
So ask yourself: What does this word add? If it adds nothing, lose it. Take it to the extreme: Can you can convey everything you want to say in a single word? If so, do so. It’s more likely that your reader will stick around.
This is all about honing your message, then broadening it as your opportunities unfold. There will soon be opportunities to delve deeper. But start off too deep, and you’re going to lose your audience. Save that more penetrating material. You’ll need it later.
Think one word at a time. People are making decisions one word at a time. Too many details, too much embellishment too soon – they’re gone.