Key messages are something that when I was a journalist I would have scoffed at. I remember the BBC Radio 4 presenter John Humphrys saying that anyone who says you need three key messages to do a radio interview is talking rubbish. Now with more than 10 years media and presentation training experience, I am confident in saying he is utterly and completely wrong.
Key Messages helped George
To illustrate let me introduce someone we will call George. George is an old friend of my family. I have known him since he was 12 and he is now in his late 20s. He is ferociously bright with a brain that is capable of holding huge amounts of detailed and diverse information. He has encyclopedic knowledge of geography, global politics and the railways of Europe (!). But when he went for his dream-job interview, he lost out. They gave him very specific feedback; he had bombarded them with too much information and too much detail and they had not fully followed his arguments. (My interpretation is they were not sure if they were dealing with a genius or a nutcase.) So he came to spend an afternoon with me and we sorted out his messages: how he would describe his professional skills and how projects he had completed in other jobs were evidence of his knowledge and ability.
I see myself as a …
What I feel I would bring to this organisation is…
We also worked out what he was going to say, if asked, about a ‘hole’ in his CV. There is a perfectly reasonable explanation but it was complicated.
And then we rehearsed. Which is exactly what we do in Media Training.
Key Messages organise thoughts
It is understandable that John Humphrys would not see the necessity for this sort of preparation for either a job or a media interview. After a lifetime as a journalist and broadcaster, Humphrys and his ilk need only to think about something to be able to articulate it as a simple argument. It is their professional skill. (Interestingly, journalists rarely recognise this as a skill. They assume everyone can do it despite daily evidence to the contrary.)
Let’s take another example. Imagine someone has spent the last five years managing clients and designing an ‘end to end process solution’ for automating the work of people who pick the items for your on-line order in a vast warehouse. What are the chances of that person being able to articulate the advantages of 3D barcodes or warehouse management software in simple language?
This does not mean that particular professional is inadequate. It just reminds us that experts often find it hard to articulate a helicopter view. Under questioning they often get lost in the detail and led down blind and unhelpful intellectual by-ways.
Key Messages are useful everywhere
I recently facilitated a meeting helping draw up the talking points for a new international strategy for tackling a specific set of problems in emerging economies. It sounds a long way from media and presentation training but actually is remarkably closely related.
This gutting of a detailed strategy document to identify a few easy-to-grasp core ideas is a task regularly faced in many different forms by all sorts of teams in business. But it can take weeks. Putting all stakeholders together with a former journalist will save hours if not days of frustrating email negotiation.
Back to George. I am delighted to report that George got the next job he applied for and is now being offered a promotion and a new role in another European country. Well done George. And another triumph for the magic of messaging.
If you know people who need help sorting out their messages give us a call.
Key Messages: online articles
There are plenty of online articles explaining the basics of key messaging. Here are a few:
- Another introduction published as a Huffington Post blog
- A rather corporate look at key messages from a specialist PR firm
- An article focused more on messaging as it relates to presentations
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