Lecture at Ohio State

I would like to thank Professors Sarah Dunlap and Rachel Waymel for allowing me to speak to their classes on Business Communication at Ohio State University.   The students’ questions were engaging and insightful, and I am grateful for having been able to visit and share some of my advice on communicating in a business environment.  I presented the attached slide to encapsulate my thesis of effective communication.

The goal of most communication is clarity, which is achieved when a message is both as precise and as simple as it can be.  In specialized circumstances it may make sense to privilege either precision or simplicity over the other; for example, contracts or other legal documentation must be as precise as possible to protect against misinterpretation, but they do so at the expense of simplicity, and can be taxing to read.  At the other extreme, marketing slogans are frequently written to be simple and therefore memorable, but are far too vague to support specific action.

The best business writing is both precise and simple; Warren Buffett’s letters are shining examples of this type of writing, providing the data to support his contentions and sufficient context to render confidence in that data, without losing his message in the process.  Unfortunately, much business communication is neither precise nor simple.  When a writer simultaneously tries to capture the audience’s imagination and impress his audience with the depth of the research that he performed, the resulting mess often has the all of the complexity of technical speech without the specificity.

2013 Clarity Slide

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