Don't be like Twitter

I am a long-time user of Twitter. The microblogging platform has allowed me to connect with people around the world, learn new things and share my ideas. Although Twitter has struggled in recent years to grow, especially when compared to sites like Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat, it nevertheless maintains a solid base of users.

Twitter’s hallmark feature is that tweets are limited to 140 characters. People are forced to be pithy and to think hard about every single character they type. For example, the preceding two sentences consist of 161 characters, including spaces. They would not fit in a tweet.


A 140-character limit is less of an issue for character-based languages such as Chinese or Japanese. For example, the word “sophistication” consists of 14 characters. In Japanese, the word is only two characters: 洗練. (Please be right, Google Translate!)

That’s a 7:1 advantage over letter-based languages that use an alphabet. The Roman (Latin), Cyrillic, Arabic and Greek alphabets are examples of such languages. Most people in the world speak a language that falls into this category. English falls into this category.

In an effort to address the issue, Twitter is considering increasing the character limit from 140 to 280. In fact, they are already testing the new format with a limited number of users.

Many people think it’s a bad idea, if for no other reason than it will give Donald Trump even more room to rant. Good point. Many others don’t like the idea for other reasons.

I am not going to lose sleep over the issue one way or the other. However, even if you welcome Twitter’s increased character limit, please resist the urge to follow suit when it comes to your slide presentations. Many presenters think that it is a good idea to add lots and lots of detail. Rarely is this case; in fact the result is usually a bloated, incomprehensible slide. Here is one extreme example. And here is another.

When it comes to slides, follow the “old” Twitter philosophy of brevity. Keep your slides simple and clean. Design them like Pablo Picasso. In my experience, the overwhelming majority of slides can be tightened, sharpened and improved by removing material instead of adding material.
Indeed, one could say the same thing about Twitter’s new, longer tweets. Jack Dorsey, Twitter’s CEO, sent out the following tweet about the new format.

Jack Dorsey tweet

Brian Barone, another Twitter user, decided to edit Dorsey’s tweet.

What do you know! Shorter, tighter and better. Even Jack Dorsey had to admit it.

Jack Dorsey tweet

Like this article?

Share on Facebook
Share on Twitter
Share on Linkdin
Share on Pinterest
Picture of mannerofspeaking


  1. SInce you can’t keep your obnoxious left-wing politics out of your blog, I’m unsubscribing. It’s not very good anyway.

  2. Interesting parallel with Twitter. As they say, less is more.

    I was surprised that Brian Barone’s version was over 140 characters. So here’s my sub-140 take:
    A small change, but big for us. 140 limit was arbitrary, based on 160 for SMS. Proud of team: solved a problem, yet kept our essence!

    P.S. This week I saw Jean-Luc Doumont speak in Sydney, and was inspired. I found myself agreeing with everything he said. (Well almost – rather than using something like PowerPoint to create his slides, he uses TeX (or LaTeX), which seems like a lot of effort, and at times his text can be a bit hard to read.) Anyway, his content was excellent, and you can watch a similar talk of his online.

    1. Hi Craig. Good job on the tweet shortening. I didn’t bother to count Barone’s but because of Dorsey’s comment, it was too good not to use. I have seen other journalists work the tweet down as well. I will have a look at Doumont’s video. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Hi John, hope you and all your family are doing great.

    Twitter is a wonderful tool to actually make yourself aware whether you can explain/pitch your idea. Now it is not that any more. We have a saying in Arabic (خير الكلام ما قل ودل) which means brevity is the soul of wit. (I officially blame Google Translate if it is wrong!!)

    Thanks for sharing John.

    Safe Regards,

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

20 − 9 =


John delivered a keynote address about the importance of public speaking to 80 senior members of Gore’s Medical Device Europe team at an important sales event. He was informative, engaging and inspirational. Everyone was motivated to improve their public speaking skills. Following his keynote, John has led public speaking workshops for Gore in Barcelona and Munich. He is an outstanding speaker who thinks carefully about the needs of his audience well before he steps on stage.

Karsta Goetze

TA Leader, Gore and Associates

I first got in touch with John while preparing to speak at TED Global about my work on ProtonMail. John helped me to sharpen the presentation and get on point faster, making the talk more focused and impactful. My speech was very well received, has since reached almost 1.8 million people and was successful in explaining a complex subject (email encryption) to a general audience.

Andy Yen

CEO, Proton Technologies

John gave the opening keynote on the second day of our unit’s recent offsite in Geneva, addressing an audience of 100+ attendees with a wealth of tips and techniques to deliver powerful, memorable presentations. I applied some of these techniques the very next week in an internal presentation, and I’ve been asked to give that presentation again to senior management, which has NEVER happened before. John is one of the greatest speakers I know and I can recommend his services without reservation.

David Lindelöf

Senior Data Scientist, Expedia Group

After a morning of team building activities using improvisation as the conduit, John came on stage to close the staff event which was organised in Chamonix, France. His energy and presence were immediately felt by all the members of staff. The work put into the preparation of his speech was evident and by sharing some his own stories, he was able to conduct a closing inspirational speech which was relevant, powerful and impactful for all at IRU. The whole team left feeling engaged and motivated to tackle the 2019 objectives ahead. Thank you, John.

Umberto de Pretto

Secretary General, World Road Transport Organization

I was expecting a few speaking tips and tricks and a few fun exercises, but you went above and beyond – and sideways. You taught me to stand tall. You taught me to anchor myself. You taught me to breathe. You taught me to open up. You taught me to look people in the eye. You taught me to tell the truth. You taught me to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes. I got more than I bargained for in the best possible way.

Thuy Khoc-Bilon

World Cancer Day Campaign Manager, Union for International Cancer Control

John gave a brilliant presentation on public speaking during the UN EMERGE programme in Geneva (a two days workshop on leadership development for a group of female staff members working in the UN organizations in Geneva). His talk was inspirational and practical, thanks to the many techniques and tips he shared with the audience. His teaching can dramatically change our public speaking performance and enable us as presenters to have a real and powerful impact. Thank you, John, for your great contribution!

Sara Canna

HR Specialist, World Health Organization

John is a genuine communication innovator. His seminars on gamification of public speaking learning and his interactive Rhetoric game at our conference set the tone for change and improvement in our organisation. The quality of his input, the impact he made with his audience and his effortlessly engaging style made it easy to get on board with his core messages and won over some delegates who were extremely skeptical as to the efficacy of games for learning. I simply cannot recommend him highly enough.

Thomas Scott

National Education Director, Association of Speakers Clubs UK

John joined our Global Sales Meeting in Segovia, Spain and we all participated in his "Improv(e) your Work!" session. I say “all” because it really was all interactive, participatory, learning and enjoyable. The session surprised everybody and was a fresh-air activity that brought a lot of self-reflection and insights to improve trust and confidence in each other inside our team. It´s all about communication and a good manner of speaking!"

Jon Lopez

General Manager Europe, Hayward Industries

Thank you very much for the excellent presentation skills session. The feedback I received was very positive. Everyone enjoyed the good mix of listening to your speech, co-developing a concrete take-away and the personal learning experience. We all feel more devoted to the task ahead, more able to succeed and an elevated team spirit. Delivering this in a short time, both in session and in preparation, is outstanding!

Henning Dehler

CFO European Dairy Supply Chain & Operations, Danone

Thanks to John’s excellent workshop, I have learned many important tips and techniques to become an effective public speaker. John is a fantastic speaker and teacher, with extensive knowledge of the field. His workshop was a great experience and has proven extremely useful for me in my professional and personal life.

Eric Thuillard

Senior Sales Manager, Sunrise Communications

John’s presentation skills training was a terrific investment of my time. I increased my skills in this important area and feel more comfortable when speaking to an audience. John provided the right mix between theory and practice.

Diego Brait

Director of the Jura Region, BKW Energie AG

Be BOLD. Those two words got stuck in my head and in the heads of all those ADP leaders and associates that had the privilege to see John on stage. He was our keynote speaker at our annual convention in Barcelona, and his message still remains! John puts his heart in every word. Few speakers are so credible, humble and yet super strong with large audiences!

Guadalupe Garcia

Senior Director and Talent Partner, ADP International