Keep It Brief

by Peter Watts

A quote widely associated with the actor James Dean can be taken as interesting, if unusual, advice for presenters:

James Dean

 “Die young and leave a great looking corpse!”

This translates for presenters as:

“Finish early and leave a great closing impact.”

As presenters we hope to make a message-shaped impression in the mind of an audience rather than James Dean’s Porsche-shaped impression in the side of a road, but the fundamental idea is the same; quit while you’re ahead!

I recently heard a presenter who held my attention from the moment he stood up. He showed confidence, clarity, and control over his subject. It was great public speaking; Easy to listen to, informative, and much sooner than I expected, over!

The speaker had concluded, point proved and argument summarized. The audience meanwhile would have happily listened a little longer.

This presenter had communicated his point, and then finished. Job done.

 Sometimes excellent speakers seize defeat from the jaws of victory by going on too long. They get off to a great start with the audience firmly alongside. Over time though, the audience drift away as the topic becomes sluggish with information unnecessary or even irrelevant to the purpose.

Only if you are being paid to speak for a specific time period, is quantity ever a valid measurement. It’s all about quality, and these two characteristics, quantity and quality, have an inverse relationship. The more one goes up, the more the other goes down.

 As you plan your next presentation, challenge yourself to reduce quantity by 20% and make that into an ongoing discipline. Look for things that can be taken out so your key message comes through with clarity and strength.

The way to surprise and please the audience is not only with the brilliance of your presentation. You can also delight them with it’s brevity.

 Finish early, leave an impact. Less is most definitely more.


  1. Peter, I just read your “Keep it Brief” blurb and could not agree more!! What a well-written, sensible, right-on article! Very timely for me — I just offended a good friend when she asked me to edit her speech, and I basically told her the same thing you mentioned. It seemed to me that she was trying to IMPRESS rather than EXPRESS. I have forwarded your advice to her!

    • Hello Laurie

      It’s great to hear from, and thank you for your comments about the blog.

      Today’s Inauguration of President Obama prompted me to read through what many commentators believe to be one of the greatest inauguration speeches ever made, President Lincoln’s second inaugural.

      Apart from the incredible eloquence of the speech, what struck me was it’s length, or rather, it’s lack of length. Lincoln managed to compress the hopes of a war-torn nation into one of the most compact pieces of oratory in history, and that factor, it’s brevity, is doubtless one of the reasons why still today, people regard it as GREAT!

      Keeping it brief is certainly a key to keeping it great.

      Thanks again for your comments

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