Lesson 20: The Secret to Internalizing Key Messages

By Gerard Braud


In the early stages of media training, many students are skeptical about the concept of key messages. Accepting key messages and using key messages effectively takes time and practice.

As I mentioned in lesson 15, in most media training classes I first conduct a baseline interview, then I introduce the concept of key messages to the student, then I conduct a second interview to give them an opportunity to test drive a set of key messages that we have agreed upon.

After the second interview I always ask whether the second interview was easier or harder than the first. Usually 50% if my students think the interview is easier once they are given key messages while 50% think the second interview is harder when they have to remember key messages.

And as I mentioned in lesson 2, many people have difficulty with key messages because they try to memorize them. Remember, the goal is to internalize them. That means you learn them first in your head and over time, you grow to know them in your heart.

But how do you successfully internalize a series of key messages?

It begins when you start using all of your media training techniques and key messages every day. Sure, the class is called media training, but the skill set you learn should serve you well in presentations, when talking with employees, when talking with friends at a party, etc.

To begin with, work with a good writer to craft your key messages and make sure the key messages are written to match the way you speak. The key message needs to be in your voice using the kinds of words you would use, provided those words are not jargon. As we’ve mentioned before, if you are guilty of using jargon you’ll have to cure yourself of that habit and the key messages may help.

But when I say put the key messages in your voice, I really mean that the sentences need to be structured to fit your speech pattern. Some people have difficulty pronouncing certain words. I, for example, have difficulty saying the word, “particularly.” It is due in part to the speech impediment I had as a child. So I replace “particularly” with the word “especially.”

Next, make sure the key messages are factually true. If there is the least bit of exaggeration or the slightest falsehood, you will trip over your words every time.

Once you have 2-3 key messages that you like, start using them every day in as many conversations as you can with as many different people. You need to essentially test drive the key messages the way you would test drive a car before you buy it.

Try this little test – Use the same key message 3 times a day with 3 different people each day for 3 weeks. By the end of three weeks, you will actually hear someone saying almost your exact words either to a colleague or back to you. What is amazing is that they will say it with confidence as though it is their own original thought. They may say it to you without ever realizing that they first heard it from you.

This point is further proven if we go back to our previous discussions about jargon. If the CEO constantly uses a phase such as “customer centric,” eventually all of the vice presidents will use the term, followed by all of the managers and directors. I worked for a major retailer as a vice president for a while. Within the first few days on the job I was overwhelmed by how fast jargon was transferred through the ranks. Your good key messages can be transferred through the ranks as well.

As you master the first few key messages, learn a few more and use them daily until they are internalized.

You’ll notice that the first few times you attempt to interject the key messages into a conversation it may seem awkward. That is to be expected. But with each passing day, those key messages will begin to sound more conversational. Ultimately, that is your goal – to be able to use your key messages in a very conversational tone when you are talking to the media.

In our next lesson we’ll examine the secret to a great interview and a great answer.

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