A Farewell to Verbosity

During my broadcast career, I had the pleasure of working alongside some of the best in the business. Of all the career advice I was given, the tip that stuck with me most was simple: Read Ernest Hemingway. I share this advice with you because it truly encapsulates the style of most news writers, broadcast and print alike. 

Hemingway mastered a concise style of writing that dripped with prose. His work is a reminder that a message can be powerful, without being loquacious. It is a style that so many writers have mastered, but so few public speakers understand. That is problematic.

Out of curiosity, I looked back at some of the newscast scripts I’ve written over the years. The longest SOT (newsroom speak for sound bite) was a lengthy 34 seconds long. It was podium sound from a high-profile federal court case. Most speakers will be getting far less than 34 seconds of air time.

So what does this mean? For starters, know that if a news reporter attends your event, they are most likely looking for one short sound bite. Plan your speech accordingly or risk being paraphrased. Use visual words and analogies in moderation. 

When answering questions, avoid what I like to call the verbal square dance- a frustrating occurrence that involves a two-minute stream of consciousness. This is why talking points are so key. They allow the speaker and other stakeholders to consider questions before they are asked, thus getting everyone on the same page with a unified response.

Striking the balance between brevity and verbosity, between candid speech and pontificating, is generally a learned experience. Fully understanding how reporters absorb and relay information must also be a part of that learning process.