convey to compel 1: thought distribution

Working Memory Capacity:

The barrier between your thoughts and your listener’s mind. What is it, and how do you befriend it so your words penetrate?

Milder thought distribution.

Write shorter sentences.

Try only putting one thought in each sentence. Max two. Even two can be confusing. Just try and avoid putting multiple thoughts in one sentence whenever possible.  Why?

Because people aren’t as smart as you think. They don’t have as high of an IQ as you’d expect. Or rather, it takes a much higher IQ than you’d think to fully grasp a continuous stream of complex sentences. And yes, IQ is the most fitting term to use here:

IQ is based on something called your Working Memory Capacity. It’s the ability to hold a given set of data in your mind long enough to manipulate it so you can make sense of it all. In other words, it measures how much data you can hold and manipulate in your mind, and for how long.

Now that you know what Working Memory Capacity is, think about what you’re doing when you put multiple thoughts in a sentence (and take the following sentence as an example):

When you’re delivering a sentence with 3 thoughts, you’re assuming your listener has enough working memory capacity to hold in their mind and analyze the data of the first thought until the second thought arrives, then hold and analyze the data of the first and second thought until the third one arrives, then hold and analyze the data of the first, second and third thoughts, and then draw a logical conclusion about these thoughts, all before you bombard them with the thoughts in your next sentence.

That’s hard.

It’s easier for you, the speaker, because you already know what you’re going to say. There’s no need for you to hold onto the first two thoughts until the third one comes. They’re all in your head already. Your working memory capacity is barely stretched.

When you speak to others, you shouldn’t stretch theirs either. Not if you want them to truly grasp what you’re saying.

Shorten your sentences. This way, you minimize the amount of data your listeners need to hold onto and analyze in each sentence. Keep your sentences to one thought per sentence when possible. Max, two.

Measure your thought distribution:

So what exactly is a “thought?” Well, the definition can be interpreted and used differently by different people. Let’s just say that a thought is a collection of words that cannot be distilled any further, without sacrificing meaning.

However even this may not be easy to apply consistently. Fortunately, until you do become an expert at measuring thought distribution, there’s another unit of measure you can use:

Time.

As a rule of thumb, try keeping your average sentence length under 5 seconds. For reference, each second should take as long as it takes to say the word “mississippi.”

So how do we measure? It’s easy:

Select a paragraph you wrote. Put on a timer. Time yourself reading the paragraph. Don’t read fast or slow. Read at conversational speed. Read at the same speed as when you read for entertainment. Once you’ve read the paragraph, stop the timer. Now take the total number of seconds, and divide it by the amount of sentences in the paragraph. The number you get is the average length (in seconds) of your sentences. 

Let’s try an example. We’ll use this page: everything from the large title up until the end of this sentence, right here.

Our total number of sentences was 53, and it took us 196 seconds to read. 196 divided by 53 is 3.7. The average length of our sentence here is just under 4 seconds. Not too shabby, especially considering that monster italicised sentence we used to describe what happens when a person is listening to a sentence with 3 thoughts.

Start paying attention to how many thoughts you put in each sentence. Empathize with your listeners’ working memory capacity. Shorten your sentences as a result. Watch as your words begin connecting more deeply.