Shostack + Friends Blog Archive


The Two Minute Rule for Email and Slides?

So I’ve been discomfited by the thoughts expressed by Tom Ptacek and the Juice Analytics guys over what presentations are for, and a post over at Eric Mack’s blog, “A New Two Minute Rule for Email.” The thing that annoys me is the implicit assumption that all issues should be broken down into two minute chunks. That we’re all dumb enough to require summaries like “It’s a slam dunk, Mr. President.” I find myself slipping into this belief. Annoyed that the authors of “A Report on the Surveillance Society” [link to no longer works] prepared for the UK Information Commissioner didn’t make it shorter. It’s already easy to read, but it’s 102 friggin’ pages. Who wants to read 102 pages? You’re probably already onto the next blog post already.

If you’re not, it may be because you recognize that there are arguments that take longer. There’s also arguments that don’t take so long, and I think I’ve made mine.

PS: I don’t think that Juice or Tom would ever argue for a hard-and-fast rule of this sort, but guidelines with subtlety become rules that people get tied up about.

9 comments on "The Two Minute Rule for Email and Slides?"

  • Thomas H. Ptacek says:

    Everyone can cite bad (or terrible, or horrible, or incomprehensibly terrifying) presentations. Not everyone is good at putting together presentations.
    It’s also true that “presentation” is not the One True Mode Of Communication. I think a lot of Tufte’s points — and I pay a lot of attention to him, read his message board, and have seen him Live On Ice — go to the merits of “presentations” versus “lectures”.
    The biggest difference between a “presentation” and a “lecture” is that a lecture is an in-depth engagement with a reasonably-sized, pre-qualified audience. My take is, the only way to claim that lectures are “better” than powerpoint-style prezos is to say that there’s no place for broad, survey-style engagements with large, diverse audiences.
    Because in front a large, diverse audience, unless the whole point of the presentation IS the Minard Map, the Minard Map sucks as an explanatory tool.
    If you’re trying to cover a lot of ground — that is, if you’re trying to give a survey — oftentimes 2 minutes is all you’ve got.

  • Mike Murray says:

    I think that this is all an inevitable consequence of the sheer amount of information that is around us every day. For simple statistics, I look at my own life, between work and home:
    Emails: ~85/day (not counting mailing lists)
    Blogs tracked: 138/day (between work and home)
    Podcasts tracked: 18
    And that’s without trying to keep up with the monthly new book releases, magazines (I’ve got Business 2.0 and Strategy+Business sitting and staring at me right now).
    With the amount of information that is around us all the time, the “It’s a slam dunk” level of depth is all that we can often afford to give – especially as you move into a more and more information heavy role (like analyst, blogger, info security pro, or president of the USA).
    I’m not saying it’s right – I’m just saying that it’s how it is.

  • Erik says:

    The problem with making important decisions based on two minute presentations is that, as already mentioned, many people are not gifted presenters.
    This means that, in considering (for example) which of two service providers to hire, you will end up choosing not the one that provides a better service but the one that provides a better sales pitch. This is fine if you are looking for a publicist, but as a society we can’t privilege only those organizations, movements, and ideas that are able to afford a great PR team.

  • Alex Hutton says:

    Isn’t the two minute rule what an executive summary is for? In other words, if I were to discuss with you, say, vulnerability research – would you want the two minute version, or, the two minute version with specifics if you chose to write on?
    I hate how terse our society is becoming, but maybe that’s just because I suck at short blog posts.

  • Chris says:

    I have mixed feelings. My blog posts tend to be short. Definitely of the “one idea” type, and generally using somebody else’s work to get that idea out. Many times, I will realize there’s more I could say, but it’s too much work to make it coherent. I suffer from having a “holistic view” of security (and of other things that relate to it). Consequently, if I were to give anything truly pithy its due, I’d be writing all night, and poorly. So, I keep it short, which means that in general I pick easier issues.
    OTOH, I really appreciate it when people write long, informative blog posts about something, and don’t just sprinkle in links to sources of in-depth info. Ptacek has been a great source of these of late.
    Now that I think about it, Eric Rescorla successfully stakes out the middle ground. Maybe I’d write like him if I paid better attention in college, studied a hard science, and had access to an academic library.

  • Ben says:

    Two Minutes – good pop songs and great sex!
    Wow, two minutes, that’s a long time! The first barrier is the title, as a long time user of RSS feeds that’s often all the time and energy I give to the blogs I track. The ‘do I read’ heuristic starts with recognition (do I see it’s relevance in my world), and them go on to whether it piques my interest (normally a feature of whether I’ve read the writers work before). There is of course a fast track for reading and attention, extreme wit, which cuts through any other decision making factors.
    It has always been my opinion blogs are for a ‘quick hit’. Essay/white papers are a better form for long explanations and deeper discussions. The format lends itself to devoting more time and energy. I also think an application of the ‘two minute’ rule for essay introductions and the same sort of brevity for conclusions and summary are worthy tools.
    Two minutes up – ‘goodbye’

  • Nick Owen says:

    What’s needed is a 15 second rule for voicemail messages….

  • Chris says:

    Hear! Hear!!

  • Adam says:

    (Or don’t.) 😉

Comments are closed.