The One Sentence / Paragraph / Page Framework

Joshua Tree National Park, California; photo by the author

Quick: Which has a longer attention span, goldfish or humans?

Are you still paying attention?

According to a 2015 research report by Microsoft (which seems to have disappeared from Microsoft’s website; here’s a bootleg copy), smartphones and their ilk have so eroded human attention span that the lowly goldfish now ekes out the world’s most advanced species in this respect, 9 seconds to 8 seconds. Of course, that’s an oversimplification of the report’s findings, but the point holds that it’s increasingly hard to keep a person’s focus.

This has important implications for anyone working at a company like Smartling. Sales development reps need to be able to pitch succinctly; account executives need to be able to demo in a way that doesn’t leave the prospect feeling lost; and so on. For this reason, I dedicated 30 minutes to the topic during last quarter’s full-team training (insert joke here about how 29 minutes and 52 seconds of the session was wasted time).

Remember that you aren’t writing the next great American novel; you’re doing business, and prospects and customers just aren’t interested in hearing as much about your product or service as you probably want to share. When I was at Atypon, I came up with what I call the “one sentence / paragraph / page” framework to help my team understand this dynamic, which I’ve used and taught ever since. It works like this:

Here’s an example. Smartling’s Global Delivery Network is an infrastructure solution for delivering localized websites and Web applications. Because digital properties are a company’s lifeblood, prospects want to know that they can rely on the Global Delivery Network to work at all times. I’ve greatly exaggerated the questions for emphasis.

You may have noticed from the example that the one-sentence answer only answers the question; it doesn’t explain the answer. This is intentional. When people ask questions, they’re usually only interested in the answer. Don’t make them hunt for the answer in the explanation, or worse still, make the mistake of thinking you’re giving an answer when you’re actually giving an explanation. I’ve seen both happen all too frequently.

For example:

You answered the question (“99.99% uptime”), but it wasn’t obvious and was actually passive-aggressive (you should just trust us).

Or even worse:

You literally didn’t answer the question (how reliable), even though you spouted off for a minute or two about your whiz-bang tech.

If you’re a vendor, you’re in the storytelling business. Following the one sentence / paragraph / page framework will keep your stories crisp and on point, ensuring that your message is heard.

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Chief Customer Officer at Brightflag. I write about issues relevant to and situations faced by SaaS companies as they scale.

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Kevin Cohn

Chief Customer Officer at Brightflag. I write about issues relevant to and situations faced by SaaS companies as they scale.