Last week I asked students in one of my classes how many watched the State of the Union address. Of the 12, one woman raised her hand.
"Did you watch it all?" I asked.
"Well. I had it on in the den," she said. "I was in the kitchen making a cake."
Virtually no one really watches these speeches for one reasonthey're too freakin' long! Who wants to listen to someone talk for an hour? Not me.
For my taste, even Senator Marco Rubio's 15-minute response was too long. Thankfully, he made his speech entertaining with his infamous sip of water. It's nice to see that even the most experienced speakers get nervous.
So in honor of the State of the Union, let's discuss brevity.
Attention spans are shorter
There was a time when people loved stem-winders. Former U.S. Senator Edward Everett famously spoke for two hours at Gettysburg. When the next speaker, President Abraham Lincoln, spoke next for only two minutes, his address was shockingly short and way ahead of its time.
Back then no one was distracted by their iPhones and "Words With Friends." Today, the most popular YouTube video ever is Psy's "Gangnam Style," with more than 1 billion hits. It's a little over four minutes long, which is also the length of the average YouTube video.
Today, the most common experience people have with long messagesother than windy politiciansis sermons. And most business people don't want to be seen as "giving a sermon."
If you want people to pay attention, you need to get to the point fast and stay relevant.