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Baby Shoes

"For sale: baby shoes, never worn." 

Why the six word novel should inspire our communication.

There is a literary legend around Ernest Hemingway that I heard for the first time the other day. The story goes that Hemingway and a number of his literary friends were at a long and, quite probably, liquid lunch. The talk turned to the fashion of the day, flash fiction, stories written in as few words as possible.  

Hemingway made a $10 wager with each of his fellow diners that he could craft a complete story in six words. All agreed to the wager and the money was laid on the table. Hemingway then wrote on a paper napkin, "For sale: baby shoes, never worn."

Why is this relevant to our communications?  Reflecting on the story I thought the principle of capturing and offering the maximum amount of information in as few words as possible, whilst retaining the essential detail, evoking atmosphere and creating impact with an audience, is a skill. 

Being able to communicate in any medium with clarity, brevity and impact takes practice. News journalists tend to be good at cutting through peripheral content to draw out the essential elements of a story. Good communicators in PR recognise that when creating content for the media, either in a written or verbal form, every word has to earn it's place.  They understand that there is limited space and time to tell their story and to get their information to the audience.

In wider business communications, with which we all engage, we seek to create influence with an audience and shape their decision making or attitudes.  Recognising that the audience has limited time should encourage us all to ensure we test our communications; is all the relevant content there in an accessible form, is there sufficient supporting evidence, has the content used the language that will have the desired impact on the audience?  Then cut away anything that is superfluous.

Hemingway won his bet.