Never say seven sentences when seven words will do
August 20, 2014
We all know Jackie Kennedy became an editor later in life—but I learned she was an editor early in life, too.
The wife and I just took a brief vacation in Boston. There, we spent some time at the JFK library. To a speechwriter, this was going to be gold.
And it did not disappoint. But, to my surprise, the best speechwriting—in fact, the best strategic communications lesson—came not from the president, or from first brother Bobby, but from the First Lady, Jackie Kennedy.
A draft of suggested responses to a reporter's questions is on display. The first question gets a multi-line response. Seven lines to a question that asks what do you like most about living in the White House.
Mrs. Kennedy notes to her press aide that every answer should be as monosyllabic as possible. And she strikes the entire behemoth of a paragraph. Replacing those seven lines with just seven words, she answers, "Seeing my husband be a great president."
We all love to tell our execs to stay on message. To loop back to the tiered talking points. To answer every question with the vetted language approved by legal and IR.
In doing that we sometimes forget something. Something the Kennedys never did.
Keep it simple. Keep it short.
When is there a need for a seven sentence answer when a seven word one will do? As Jackie Kennedy reminded me this week: never.