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How to be crystal clear about your message

How do you know if your message is clear?

One way to be super clear is to be able to explain your idea in a single sentence of 10 or fewer words. Craig Valentine calls it the Foundational Phrase. He called it the key to public speaking: "no phrase, no stage."

You're about to learn how to establish your one-sentence explanation in the next 2 minutes.

It's a method inspired by the Half Life game from Improv. There are 2 variations: verbal half life and written half life.

Verbal half life

Start by verbally explaining the idea in one minute.

Two tips before you go further:

  1. I find that it helps if I'm doing this as a conversation. Find a friend to talk to.
  2. You should also use your phone to record what you say.

Then, explain it in 30 seconds. And then cut it down to 15 seconds, seven seconds, and three seconds.

I can imagine your eyebrows scrounged together now, as if to say "that's impossible."

I didn't think it was possible until I tried it in my improv class either.

This works because there's a chance you already understand the concept well enough to explain it in a simple way. Reducing the time you have to explain it forces your unconscious mind to automatically focus on the most important bits.

If you have all the time in the world, you'll want to explain in detail and make sure nothing is left out. But that's exactly the problem. You're trying to fit in too much in a little space.

But what if you can't explain it within the time limit? Or what if you feel that your explanation is incorrect or inaccurate?

That's fine. You've just diagnosed an area of improvement. This is your signal to refine your own understanding. Only when you're crystal clear can you ensure your audience understands you well.

And if you've recorded yourself speaking, you can transcribe the words. Often, you might surprise yourself with how elegant your explanation can be under the time limit.

Written half life

Another way to do this is to write it down. Instead of using time as a constraint to force clarity, you're using a word limit.

Start by writing down your explanation, however long you want.

Then write the next version with half the words. Repeat until you can explain yourself in 10 or fewer words.

What magic is this?

Constraints provide focus by limiting your options.

You're not new to this. Have you ever procrastinated in school or at work?

You could have a month to work on a project, but it's only in the last few days that you actually get down to work. And despite the lack of time, you got it done. Now go create your one-sentence summaries of your ideas.