One of my favorite exercises in English (at school) was precis writing. The sheer transformation of a huge chunk (5 to 10 lines huge!) of text to a crisp and condensed 3 to 4 lines of simplicity and directness was a joy to conjure.
The transformation would involve removing “filler” type of words, finding connections between lines in a way that by combining them, the meaning got more sharper and using less complex phrases without losing the depth of meaning (and some more tricks depending upon the sentence). The real fun was reading the “before & after” version of the paragraph that was subjected to the pruning (precis writing) exercise.
“Wow! it looks good now, doesn’t it ma’am?”, I used to ask my teacher.
I remember many a times my teacher replying with a smile “….hmm! the previous version was good. Don’t overdo this, if you try to make it too short by cutting it down, you will lose the core essence! The intent is not to cut things down, but to summarize and bring out the meaning in a better way”.
Yet I remember trying hard to prove a point to my teacher that I could push the paragraph to yet one more level of shortness(err…simplicity) in its exerciz-onal existence 🙂
And after getting a decent score in English language exam(s), I thought that that would be the last of precis writing…
The art (attempts) of “summarization” as powerful means to convey stories, messages and points of view in a “concise” manner, is perhaps one of the most common mechanisms in the fast paced modern world(historians please pardon the above line). And if you are in some sort of a profession where you constantly convey/consume information to take decisions, motivate/persuade others, chances are that you are also subject to this practice.
Of course, I am not just speaking about powerpoint presentations, although certainly they have become more ubiquitous than some of the other tools.
And then sometimes we tend to take it a bit too far!
Sometimes, the need is not summarization, but elaboration – conveying an empathetic & honest story to evoke conviction rather than (enforced) persuasion. Connecting with the person/group by being present, than making a presentation.
Indeed, “don’t overdo it…don’t lose the core essence…” is a relevant message!