The story goes that in the 1920’s the great Ernest Hemingway sat around a table of fellow writers and bet them that he could write a story in just six words. Laughing at his audacity they hastened to take his bet. Hemingway quickly wrote six words on a napkin and passed it around the table. The words were: “For Sale, Baby Shoes, Never Worn.”
Hemingway’s story was complete. It had a beginning, middle and an end. Needless to say, he won the bet.
Whether it happened or not we will never know but the Hemingway story makes an important point - you do not need pages of writing to tell a story.
But does it matter?
You can argue that brevity has always mattered and that getting and holding someones attention has always been vital to getting your message across. In the modern world, however, it is even more vital. The attention spans of people are becoming shorter and shorter as they have to juggle, sort and process the overabundance of information that characterises the modern world. Now, more than ever, if your message is too long and too hard, you will lose people.
In 1971 Herbert Simon, a professor from Carnegie Mellon University was one of the first to articulate the concept of attention economics when he wrote:
“…in an information-rich world, the wealth of information means a dearth of something else: a scarcity of whatever it is that information consumes. What information consumes is rather obvious: it consumes the attention of its recipients. Hence a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention and a need to allocate that attention efficiently among the overabundance of information sources that might consume it”
Next time you write a message, whether it is for web content, marketing collateral or an email, remember that in order to gain someone’s interest, you first need to gain their attention. If they like what you have to say, they will trade their attention for your information. You may even be surprised by how much it can play on their minds...
'For Sale, Baby Shoes, Never Worn.'