Read summaries. Rd smrys. Speed reading technique #26.

Speed reading technique #26: Rd smrys – Read summaries 

Reading summaries is the quickest way of getting the book’s message, overview and context.

 “Brevity is the soul of wit.” William Shakespeare

Research on summaries shows that people remember more (and for longer) after reading a summary than they do after reading the whole book. When you are previewing a book, always check whether it contains chapter summaries which quickly give you an overview of what the book is about.

As you read, look out for phrases which indicate that the author is giving a summary, eg ‘to sum up’, ‘in summary’, ‘in short’, ‘in a nutshell’.

Even better, find a summary of the complete book – there are lots of compilations of summaries published as books or online. Often a good review will give you a summary of the book’s key message. (See Resources for collections of summaries  or check out our speed reading blog which has many summaries of the top and relevant books)

Take notes from the summaries on a mindmap or rhizomap (speed reading technique #17) as you would from the whole book.

By the way …You will usually read a summary more slowly than you would read a ‘normal’ book because the information is so dense. But if you think of reading as ‘information gained in relation to time spent’ (rather than ‘how fast am I reading?’ speed reading technique #3), summaries are an excellent investment of time.

Why do we find people borning? Because they can’t summarise.

Professor Robert Ewers, from Imperial College London, suggests that we find people boring because “They just can’t summarise information. That’s mostly what it boils down to. They spend a long time telling you things that are obvious.” Professor Ewers has just published his study in a letter to the journal Nature about the length of boring speeches. He said, “For every 70 seconds that a speaker droned on, the odds that their talk had been boring double.” As Shakespear suggests, “Brevity is the soul of wit.” – some of the most interesting and powerful speeches were short. For example, Winston Churchill’s first speech as PM, when he told the Commons “I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat.” Although Professor Ewers thinks that it’s unlikely that his research will change the manner of boring speakers, the real value of his findings is for the audience. “For the audience, this is exciting news. It’s not all in your mind. That boring talk really did go on forever. You’re not insane. That dreary experience was everlasting.”

Giving public talks or speeches is a skill that can be learnt, so not all is lost on boring speakers. The first step is easy – just read more summaries to get used to summarising.

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