When less is more

In the world of improvised theatre*, there's a classic game called 'reducing scene'. The performers start by improvising a one minute scene. Immediately after that, they repeat the same scene but in half the time – much to the delight of the audience. Just when you thought the fun had finished, the players perform the same scene in half the time again (15 seconds), and then again (7.5 seconds).

What I find fascinating about this game is seeing what the performers cut from a scene - and what they keep in - each time it gets shorter. The performers are forced to very quickly distil the scene down to its essence.

I reckon we should all play 'reducing scene' with our own communication from time to time. Take your first cut of a message and then keep slicing it in half until you’ve found its essence. Now use that as the key message that anchors your communication. Sure, you need to keep the meaning in tact, and yes, be ready to provide more detail where needed - but start and finish with the distilled essence.

Albert Einstein famously said, “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.” This is the perfect reminder to those of us who are tempted to ramble on in the hope our audience will discover our message for us, or mistake our torrent of words for intelligence.

I’m eternally grateful for my first boss (back in my lawyering days) who used to sit with me, fat-nibbed red pen in hand, and pare back my draft letters until they hardly seemed worth the postage. More often than not, his process of ruthless editing revealed my own uncertainty about what I actually wanted to say. Even today, I still have his voice in my head ("what's your point?!") whenever I write. 

In a world where every message we deliver, every idea we propose, is competing for attention amidst an avalanche  of information, precision and clarity matter.

To cut through, first cut down the noise. 


* Regular readers of my blog will know that I’ve got improvisation blood in my veins – I spent many years performing with improv troupes here in Australia, including with the wonderful Impro Melbourne.


Thanks to Floriana for the image used in this month's post.