Speak Laconically

Laconically speaking is to speak little with maximum effectivness, in other words (non laconically) it means that you use as few words as possible to convey the deepest or most understood message.

Laconia is the area where the ancient Greek Spartans lived, and Sparta was a city-state that is known for its lean approach to life. The Spartans lived in tents not buildings, concentrated on agriculture and fighting to maintain a self-disciplined life, and also learned to speak with efficiency.

The term “laconic” means that the speaker is focused and concise, delivering the message with as much impact and power as a longer wordier version. The best examples and perhaps most extreme ones were these two:

The Spartans lost in one of their battles against the Athenians, and their commander Mindarus was killed in action. His deputy, Hippocrates wrote a message to Sparta stating “Ships sank. Mindarus dead. The men starve. Request guidance.” When the Macedon King Philip II, father of Alexander the Great sent a message to Sparta that “You are advised to submit immediately, for if my army steps foot in Lacedaemon, it will raze your crops, kill your men and enslave your society.” Sparta reduced its reply to one word “If”.

As you can see, both replies are terse and concise; they get to the point, they do not involve ego or emotion. The simple message that Hippocrates sent was a statement of facts, and the reply that Sparta gave Philip was a word from Philip’s message that was the entire crux. Just for your knowledge, Philip did not attack Sparta.

Speaking laconically is not just about reducing the wording to the minimum, it is about putting meaning into the minimum number of words to convey the message. Here are some examples of how to convey a message without using too many words, again from Spartan history.

One Spartan was asked to hear a singer that sang like a nightingale, the Spartan’s reply was “I have heard the nightingale itself.”

When the Spartan Pleistoanax was accused by an Athenian of being ignorant, he replied stating “What you say is true. We alone of all the Greeks have learned none of your evil ways.

As you can see, the use of words and how you arrange them is key to success.

How to speak laconically requires the following traits:

  • Understanding the subject
  • Knowledge of language and prose
  • Knowing when to speak

To speak about anything, whether laconically or not requires knowledge of the subject matter, if you do not know what is being discussed, don’t talk, listen and learn.

If you do understand the subject matter, you will only be able to deliver a message if you know how to use language properly. This means learning the language inside and out, learning to use and weave words so that you can express yourself in any style. Note that speaking laconically is the hardest of styles.

Knowing when to speak is the key to success, it’s not about being heard, or being important, it’s about delivering the message when it is needed. In other words, it knowing when to say “If” in a boardroom for maximum effectivity without expounding a whole speech to express the word.

To speak laconically is to be structured, so prepare key points, make headlines, and deliver the key points under each headline statement so that the message is fully understood by all.