May 20th, 2011
09:00 AM ET

Letters to the President: #851 'Keep it short'

Reporter's Note: President Obama gave his big speech on the future of the Middle East and…well, here’s today’s letter.

Dear Mr. President,

I tried to stick with you; honestly, I did. But somewhere between the history of the Middle East and the so-that’s-why-we’re-going-to-send-them-money, I found myself getting snoozy. Sorry. And please don’t take this as an insult, because you know what a great speaker you are, but, for any politician who wants to be re-elected, I suggest a good first step is to make no speeches over 20 minutes.

Like you, I enjoy talking. I can kill hours listening to myself prattle. But unlike you, my audience frequently doesn’t have to listen. So I’ve learned that no matter how great I think my ideas are, I’d better boil them down or I’ll be talking to the revolving door. You might want to do the same.

There are three reasons. First, no one has the time anymore to listen to some long-winded dissertation. You know what kind of world we live in - slam, bam, keep it moving, get going, we’re late, let’s go! Frankly, these days I don’t even go to the movies anymore. I just watch the trailers.

Second, maybe it’s because I have always worked in mediums in which time is at a premium, but I think any message to the public ought to be clear, clean, and short. Mind you, I did not say simplistic. Very complex, nuanced concepts can be conveyed in very few words if they are well chosen. Think of haiku. Or a sitcom.

Third, (and this may be the most important one,) when you talk too long about an idea it makes it seem weak. Maybe you think you’re filling in all sorts of critical details to a grand scheme, but, trust me, on the receiving end it sounds like just so much filler.

All that said, I suppose I should wrap it up. See? Aren’t you glad?


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Find more of the Foreman Letters here.

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