How to identify your key messages

person writing on brown wooden table near white ceramic mugKey messages can be tricky to get right. This is especially true if you are close to the subject matter and know all the ins and outs by heart. Or if you are producing communications for a project manager who wants to cover all bases.

But it is vital for effective communication that you find a way to get the core messages across, in a way that is simple, consistent and accessible to all. If things get too complicated, your target audience may become confused and/or switch off completely.

Cut to the chase
There are many ways to identify the essence of what you want to say, but my favourite is to talk to a child about it.

Kids have a great way of cutting to the chase, asking the tricky questions and getting to the heart of the matter without unnecessary complications. They will help you to see what is really important and what is just extra non-essential ‘stuff’.

Simply explaining the challenge to them in the first place forces you to consider what is most important and how to express it. They don’t have the patience or time to listen to long-winded explanations and waffle – those Lego worlds won’t build themselves, you know!

In the same way, your colleagues haven’t got time to wade through complicated content when there are reports to write, patients to see or calls to make.

A picture of a super hero drawn by my then-7-year-old. Explanation about him is in the interview text.
A super hero drawn by my then-7-year-old
A few years ago my then-7-year-old daughter drew me a picture for my office wall. It shows Communication Guy, a super hero with a cape that has a picture of 2 people talking to each other on it. She was inspired to draw him after hearing about some people I was working with who would regularly email their colleague sitting at the next desk, rather than talk to them directly.

I love the way it conveys the simple truth that more often than not you can’t beat a conversation for effectively communicating.

Focus your mind
If you don’t have children yourself, you could borrow nieces, nephews or friends’ children for the same effect. Another technique is to consider how you would explain the message to someone in the lift on the way to the 9th floor. You’ve only got the time it takes until they get to their office and there isn’t much time, if any, for clarification questions.

This is another great way to focus your mind.

An example
During my effective communication training workshops, I share the example of Girlguiding’s key messages. They are 4 simple statements that are more powerful than complicated ones would be.

They also do a great job of explaining how to use those messages. You can find this resource on the Girlguiding website:

As the mother of a girl guide, I have been a recipient of these messages over the last couple of years. I’m not sure I’ve ever heard the exact wording of the 4 statements. But time and time again, my daughter’s leaders have communicated to me how they give girls a voice, for example, through the way their weekly meetings are organised.

So next time you need to write some key messages, try asking a child for their thoughts on the matter. Let me know how you get on.

Until next time

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