Tuesday, November 10, 2009

When to Stop

Less is more. As one who is beginning to embrace minimalism, this is my mantra. It works in so many areas of life. I have spoken to a number of artists who have ruined good pictures with one further brush stroke. Shop windows have too many goods on display (in Japan a big shoe shop may have a single pair in the window). Parish ministry requires fewer interventions than you imagine. Priests can over-rate their self-importance.

One technique which would be much blessed by less is speaking. Not just shorter talks, although I am writing this during quite a long talk of which more later, but conversation.

How many times have I been engaged in a chat with someone who has responded to a point, then made another, then changed the subject then told a related story until it is almost impossible to get back to the thing you were interested in discussing in the first place. Hi Mum, by the way. I recently had a colleague who had the capacity to make an interesting story so dull through excessive length that only some hours later did I realise I had been amused.

Now to this long talk. There is a peculiar sensation one feels when listening to a speaker who does not know how to bring their presentation to an end. It is like watching the driver of a car with failed brakes working out that they are going to have to use a hedgerow to bring their pride and joy to a halt. That driver will always consider that there may be an easier stopping place round the next bend; this speaker is constantly convinced that the next story, the fifth since suggesting all was finished, will be a softer landing. Notes have been placed, closed on the table. We have got to questions. One more dab of paint for perfection. Damn.

Note to speakers. Write the end first. Write the end of the end first of all. That is what you wanted to talk about. Say nothing, nothing at all, after that. It is the presentation skills equivalent of checking your brakes.

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