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October 5, 2017

Get to the Point

edward_everett_daguerreotypeThe great Edward Everett was a US Senator, Governor of Massachusetts, President of Harvard, and renowned orator. Today, despite his many accomplishments, he’s remembered as the guy who couldn’t get to the point.

Everett was the featured speaker at the 1863 dedication of the Gettysburg National Cemetery, where he delivered a 13,000-word speech that lasted more than two hours. He was followed by President Abraham Lincoln, who spoke for two minutes. Lincoln’s 270-word Gettysburg Address went down as one of the greatest speeches in history.

Everett knew he’d been shown up, later writing to Lincoln, “I should be glad if I could flatter myself that I came as near to the central idea of the occasion, in two hours, as you did in two minutes.”

In today’s world of short attention spans and shorter deadlines, economy of language has never been more important. Happily, Lincoln’s eloquence is not required — just be simple, clear and concise.

That’s easier said than done. I interview people every day, and a high percentage of them cannot communicate well. They don’t listen, they don’t stay on point, and they cannot crisply articulate what they’ve done and why it mattered for their employers. They don’t make a positive impression.

Learn from Everett’s failure and Lincoln’s triumph. If you want to stand out in an interview, in a meeting, or on the podium, less is more.

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