I love this church sign.
I love it because it’s emblematic of one of the most important lessons for all public speakers and storytellers:
Shorter is better.
Fewer words rule.
The 20 minute commencement address is almost always better than the 40 minute address.
The 30 minute meeting is almost always more effective than the 60 minute meeting.
The six minute story is almost always better than the 10 minute story.
And yes, the shorter sermon is always better than the longer sermon.
The longer you speak, the more engaging, amusing, and captivating you must be. That’s a tall order. Those are high expectations. Most people are not engaging, amusing, or captivating by nature.
But that’s okay. Like the sign says, you don’t have to be nearly as good if you can be quick.
Shorter is also harder. I often tell storytellers that it’s easy to tell an 8-10 minute story. Almost anyone can find a way to get from beginning to end in 10 minutes.
But it’s hard to tell a 5-6 minute story. It means making difficult choices about what will stay and what will go. It requires careful crafting and clever construction. Words and phrases must be expertly manipulated. Your choices must be spot-on.
But the results are often superior.
One of the most popular stories that I tell is about four minutes long, and while the story is good and actually won a Moth StorySLAM, I remain convinced that audiences like it because it’s short. I pack a ton of suspense and humor and heart into four minutes, making the story seem exceedingly satisfying.
I could easily turn that four minute gem into a longer, more complex story, and I nearly did when The Moth asked me to tell it on their Mainstage. I began expanding the story, finding areas to explore in more depth, and while the results would have been excellent, I think the pace and hilarity of the story might have suffered greatly.
Ultimately, we decided on a different story for that Mainstage show, so I never had the chance to see the results of the longer story.
But here is what I know:
The longer you speak, the more perfect and precise you must be. The longer you stand in front of an audience – whether it be a theater or a boardroom – the more entertaining and engaging your words must be.
So speak less. Make time your ally.