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Keep or Cut? The Discipline of Knowing What to Leave Out When Writing Speeches and Articles


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What is one of the hardest-yet most important-disciplines to have when preparing a speech, presentation, briefing or writing an article or report? It's the discipline of knowing what to leave out. And not just knowing, but actually doing.

Recently while preparing the first draft of an article, I wrote a personal example that I enjoyed and felt readers would enjoy too. It created a clear mental picture, evoked feeling, and had humor. Before finishing the draft, I stopped to go back and polish the example. With every tweak, I liked it even better. Not quite the wit of Mark Twain or the wisdom of O. Henry. . . but pretty close!

It was the perfect lead paragraph. Except for one thing-it didn't fit.

But I really, really liked it. So I spent half an hour searching for some way to include my anecdotal gem. Try as I might, I couldn't find any place where the example helped move the reader to the desired conclusion.

Whenever I get stuck, I step back and run through my message development system to see where I've gone wrong. The answer was in one of my own maxims: Messaging Is the Art of Sacrifice.

With any worthwhile issue of which you are knowledgeable, there will always be more you would like to say than you have space for, or time for, or that the reader will understand, or that the reader even needs to know. Excise those extras.

And that's what I did. I deleted the example. The article was more powerful because I did.

But don't think it's gone for good. Not at all. I cut and pasted it to its own file, awaiting a time when it will fit. There is a time and place for everything. So if in the days, weeks or months ahead you read another article with my byline that mentions a cure-all potion, you'll know that time has come.

Lou Hampton is president of The Hampton Group, Inc. , a Washington, DC firm specializing in media training, speech coaching, and message development. For tips, tricks, and techniques on how to communicate as a leader, go to Lou's blog:


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