Knowing When to Quit

I remember Sinatra in the 1980s, preening before adoring crowds as if he were still the coolest cat around. But the pipes were rusted and he couldn’t hold a note for very long and he couldn’t fake it with technique anymore. It was painful to watch, though his legion of grey-haired fans didn’t seem to mind because they were in LaLa land, fantasizing about their youth.

Fast-forward to the Garden in 2009 at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame 25th anniversary concert. Art Garfunkel is straining to the hit the highest note in “Bridge Over Troubled Water” at its most dramatic point. The enthralled audience was waiting for him to make it, and he did…barely. You could see the relief on his face. Again, it was painful to watch.

What does this have to do with writing? Not much, except it reminds me of knowing when to quit and get off the stage. Some executives, like aging singers, are caught up in their message, or themselves, and don’t know when to end a speech, a presentation, an article or blog. They go on too long and run the risk of losing their audiences. This is especially true for younger audiences accustomed to social media – Twitter to name one – in which short is the only way.

So, err on the side of brevity – always. For one thing, we’re not in Sinatra’s league. And it’s better to have ‘em wanting more than to lose ’em entirely to their blackberries and tweets.

Don Heymann

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