How many times have you left a presentation or meeting and asked yourself, “What was the point?” I know I have. It can be a meeting at my sons’ school. A presentation at an industry conference or an executive team meeting.
Over the years, I have learned that when a presentation is frustrating or unclear, it is often because the speakers’ main point and the action they wanted me to take were unclear.
In short, there were no guiding messages. Every speaking engagement, from one-on-one meetings to presentations in front of hundreds, are stronger and more effective if your message is clear and concise.
To build strong messages that will drive your communication, follow these three steps:
1. Identify your audience
2. Develop your key messages
3. Say it in 30 seconds
These are the steps I take when I am doing any type of communication, including conducting media interviews or writing articles and blog posts. Follow these steps, and you, too, will improve your communication, stay on message and connect with your audience.
Step I: Know Your Audience
The first step in preparing any communication should start with the questions, “Who is my audience?” and “What do I want them to know and do?” Understanding who your audience is, including what they know about you and/or the topic, will ensure your communication is tailored to those you are speaking to.
To identify your audience and their specific needs, ask yourself the following questions. I recommend writing them down, but, depending on the communication, you can also make a mental list.
1. Who is my audience?
2. What action do I want them to take? (This can be as simple as understanding the project or "HIRE ME.”)
3. What do they know about the subject?
4. What are their feelings about the topic? Are they passionate about it? Critical? Suspicious? Neutral?
Once you have the answers to these questions, you can begin developing the key messages that will drive your communication.
Step 2: Identify Your Key Messages and Stick to Them
On the Public Relations Society of America’s website, key messages are described as the “takeaway, master narrative, elevator pitch; essence of what you want to communicate.” In short, they are the ideas and information you want your audience to understand and remember.
To create this narrative, start by writing down three to five messages you want your audience to take away from your presentation, meeting or job interview. For each message, provide facts or evidence to support the statement. Each key message, including supporting information, should only be two to three sentences long. You can make this as formal as you want. For your purposes, you may only need to write down a main message and bullet points to support it.
Let’s take an example. If you are an HR professional who is responsible for introducing a new employee benefits package, you can anticipate that there may be questions and even apprehension about the new program, but your primary purpose is to communicate why the change was needed and the organization's commitment to employee health.
In this scenario, the key messages may include:
1. We care about the health of our employees and are committed to providing the best possible healthcare for our employees and their families.
2. The new benefits package offers options that are comprehensive, affordable and accessible for you and your families, while remaining cost-effective for the organization.
3. As healthcare and insurance costs rise, the company decided now was the time to identify a new insurance provider.
From here, support each message with facts and evidence.
3. Say it in 30 Seconds or Less
Once you have identified your key messages, create an elevator speech that can be used to summarize your main points. In short, it is how you would describe your presentation or meeting if you had to submit it for an event program. For a job interview, it is your qualifications, goals and contributions you can make to the organization. From here, your key messages can be woven throughout the presentation or meeting.
The fourth, unofficial step, is to practice, but don’t feel like you have to memorize your key messages and elevator speeches verbatim. The purpose of practice is so you can speak about them naturally and weave them effortlessly into your communication.
Try these steps the next time you have critical communication and let me know how it goes.