When s’more is less: Fewer messages = greater impact

The new owners of the house behind my friend’s house tore up their entire backyard. Out with the grass. In with a blond stone patio; a giant, gas-fed fire pit; an L-shaped bar; a cinderblock wall clad (like the bar) in more blond stones; and, at either end of said wall, a stone bowl with a turquoise glaze inside.

Bird baths? Fountains? Nope. Two more gas fire pits.

No waiting for s’mores at this house!

This phenomenon crops up a lot in the world of business writing. Department A has its content in the article, so Departments B through Z need equal time. No—no, they don’t.

In communications, more is not better. Assuming, that is, that your goal is to say something.

One message can be heard and remembered. Throw two messages at the audience—whether it’s in writing or in a speech—and you may have a shot that one of them will stick. Add any more messages and it stops being a communication and becomes an exercise in self-congratulation.

Now, I know we could all use more exercise. But if your job is to create messages, you’ve got an obligation—to the company that hired you and to your own self-esteem as a writer—to convey those messages as clearly as you can. And to make sure they don’t drown in a tsunami of extraneous information.

We did a little neighbor-watching this weekend. And guess what? No one even looked at the other two fires. Turns out that backyard fire pits are like corporate messages: one really awesome one is all you need.