Expression - Presentations

Tell It to the Spartans

It’s hard to talk for long with one of these on your head.

We like to think that our fast-paced world poses unique challenges to presenters because of the audience’s impatience, but actually the need for brevity has been respected for thousands of years. One of the earliest stories about public speaking is found in Herodotus, roughly 2,500 years ago.

If you think senior level audiences can be tough, imagine being an official from the city of Samia having to ask the Spartan authorities for aid after being driven from their city by the Persians. The Spartans, besides being fearsome warriors, were also renowned for their love of brevity.

When the delegation first spoke, they spoke so long that the Spartans said they had forgotten what they said at the beginning and didn’t understand the rest.

The Samians tried again, this time bringing an empty sack and simply saying: “this sack needs barley meal.” The Spartans applauded their brevity and approved the request, although they did say the word “sack” could have been left out.

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