Good communicators don’t just wing it. They take the time to prepare, developing key messages. Effective communication depends on clarity, and clarity requires developing key messages and using them consistently. The discipline is deceptively simple, but once mastered, key messages will make every communication process more effective, whether during speeches, presentations, or media interviews.
What are key messages?
You want everyone to understand the same basic message. Each individual may remember different details, but they should all be able to sum up your message consistently in one or two sentences. If they are properly developed and delivered, those sentences will be your key messages.
To be useful, key messages must:
- Be few in number, usually no more than two or three
- Be short and concise, generally no more than a sentence or two.
- Be written down.
Too many messages and you won’t have focus. If your messages are a paragraph each, you will not be effective. Writing your messages down makes sure they are short, concise, and understandable.
You know the basic speech structure: Tell them what you’re going to tell them, tell them, and then tell them what you just told them. That, in a nutshell, is the proper use of key messages. You should start any communication with your key messages, return to them throughout, and then summarize with them at the end.
Henry Kissinger used to start off his media interviews by asking, “Does anybody have any questions for my answers?” The implication was clear: Kissinger had his key messages and he was going to deliver them.
Developing key messages becomes especially valuable in settings where other issues are likely to come up, such as employee meetings or media interviews. If you have formalized your key messages, you have something to return to so you can keep the discussion on track.
Key messages also provide a structure for the rest of the information you want to include in your presentation or media interview. All the information you want to include should support your key messages. Organize your communication in that fashion, and you will find your presentation easier to build and clearer for your audience.
Finally, any supporting materials you provide should convey the same key messages. If you use slides or overheads, they should be organized around your key messages.
To be truly effective, you must practice. There is just something about saying things out loud that brings a clarity that is not always possible just by looking at the written word. If you find that your key messages do not flow off the tongue easily, redraft them. Test the messages with someone you trust to see if they make sense and are credible.
Developing key messages needs to be a habit
Many people in the public relations industry find the concept of key messages to be so basic that they don’t think they need to devote time to them. But truly effective communication means developing key messages must be a regular part of preparing for public presentations and media interviews. The process doesn’t need to take a long time, but the effort of developing key messages, writing them down, and then organizing your communication around them will pay huge public relations dividends in the end.
This article, written by Neal Linkon, originally appeared in PR Fuel (http://www.ereleases.com/prfuel), a free weekly newsletter from eReleases (http://www.ereleases.com), the online leader in affordable press release distribution. To subscribe to PR Fuel, visit: http://www.ereleases.com/prfuel/subscribe/.