In public relations, corporate communications, and media training, the concept of identifying your “Three Key Messages” is often taught. In other words, what are the three most important things you need to communicate during your interview with the reporter?
But wait, what exactly is a key message? Is it a talking point? Is it a bullet point? Is it a set of words that incorporate more spin than truth? Is it a set of verbatim words that incorporate both truth and quotes?
In my world as a media trainer, it is a set of verbatim words that incorporate both truth and quotes. But many PR pros and media trainers teach only bullet points and talking points. I call this “The Myth About Three Key Messages.”
For instance, imagine a U.S. political candidate in a debate with his or her opponent. The moderator of the debate might ask a question such as, “Please give me your thoughts on education.”
The candidate, whose strategist may have determined that the key messages should only be about energy, the economy, and international relations, is left with nothing to say. Therefore, the candidate will BS his or her way through 50 seconds of a 60-second answer, then conclude by saying, “Education is important and you can get more details on my website.”
STOP THIS BULL!
Each time you give a CEO or spokesperson only bullet points and talking points for an interview, you give them license to ad lib. Have you ever seen anyone who can truly ad lib well? They are few and far between. The person who ad libs is doing what? Winging it! And when you wing it you crash and burn.
Start each interview with three key AREAS that you want to talk about. For each of those areas, you should have learned and internalized several pre-written sentences that are also very quotable sentences. Then, each of those three areas should have three key messages of their own, that are well written, internalized and quotable. And conceivably, each of those three key messages will have three more messages to go with them.
Pretend your conversation is a large live oak tree like you see in the South. Picture that tree with a huge, sturdy trunk and three large branches. Your “Tree Trunk Message” should consist of two sentences that anchor the entire conversation. These are the first words out of your mouth when the reporter asks the first question and they provide context for the entire conversation. Both sentences must be quotable.
Next, write two more sentences for each of those three large branches that grow from the tree trunk. These sentences must also be highly quotable and will add a few more overarching facts and point to other important areas that you may want to talk about.
Now add three limbs to each of the large branches. Then add three twigs to each of the limbs. Then add three leaves to each of the twigs. Ultimately, just as a tree sprouts limbs, twigs, and leaves, your conversation needs to sprout additional sentences with slightly more detail. Draw it out. If you can visualize the tree, you will begin to understand how the conversation grows.
In our analogy, the leaves represent great detail while the tree trunk and three branches symbolize very basic facts. If you invest time to populate your tree with verbatim, quotable sentences that you internalize, you will ace your next interview. Basically, your populated tree has created a full conversation and an interview should be a conversation. It should tell a story.
The Conversation Tree analogy has prepared us to tell our story in the inverted pyramid style – the same style reporters use when they write.
This is not easy. It takes a great amount of preparation. An interview is as important as any business deal. If you could attach a dollar to every word that comes out of your mouth, would you make money or lose money?
Bottom line – know what you want to say, know it verbatim, and be prepared to tell a story.
Crisis communications and media training expert Gerard Braud, CSP, Fellow IEC is based in New Orleans. Organizations on five continents have relied on him to write their crisis communications plans and to train their spokespeople. He is the author of “Don’t Talk to the Media Until…”
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