Media Training for Covid-19 Key Messages: Rule of Threes

By Gerard Braud, CSP, Fellow IEC 

The brain remembers three things better than five. That is why the Rule of Threes is a foundation of media training. So when key medical experts testified before Congress recently, the nit-picker in me appreciated their five tips for preventing the spread of Covid-19, yet I know that a minor shift to three tips could result in more effective crisis communications.

The doctors all suggested:

  1. Wear a mask
  2. Wash your hands frequently
  3. Practice social distancing
  4. Avoid crowds at businesses, bars, and social gatherings
  5. Avoid large family gatherings

Although their advice seems fairly straightforward, as a professional media trainer and crisis communications expert, I am always examining how to communicate more effectively in a crisis.

Watch the video to learn how you can convert these five points into three key messages to clearly explain the guidelines in a way that the spokesperson can easily remember, and listeners can easily remember, using the Rule of Threes, and our Key Message Tree mind-mapping model.

This media training model can be applied to every event for every spokesperson. When you apply the Rule of Threes, your media training will be far more effective.

If you’d like to learn more, schedule a no-obligation conversation with me using this link:

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…”

More crisis communications articles:

Covid-19 Crisis Communications Webinar Recording

The Biggest Lie in Crisis Communications

4 Steps Every Company Needs to Take in Order to Avoid the Default Spokesperson

Media Training 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.

Media Training 9: The Myth about 3 Key Messages

By Gerard Braud 

So in the last lesson, we talked about not letting facts get in the way of a good story. The secret is to keep it simple.

When you go through media training (which I enjoy teaching more than anything in the world and I would still do every day even if I won a $200 million dollar lottery)… when you go through media training you are always taught the concept of identifying your “3 Key Messages.”  In other words, what are the 3 most important things you need to communicate during your interview with the reporter?

But what is a key message?

  • Is it a bullet point?
  • Is it a talking 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, it is a set of verbatim words that incorporate both truth and quotes. But many media trainers teach only bullet points and talking points.  I call this the myth about 3 key messages.

Let’s put this in the context of 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. Hence, 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.”

That is such bull.

When you give a spokesperson or executive 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? They are winging it. What did we learn in Lesson 2?  When you wing it you crash and burn.

In my world you should start an interview with 3 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 3 areas should have 3 key messages of their own, that are well written, internalized and quotable. And conceivably, each of those 3 key messages will have 3 more messages to go with them.

Think of your conversation as a large live oak tree like you see in the south. Picture that tree with a huge, study trunk and 3 large branches. In my training programs, I teach the executives what I call my tree trunk message, which usually consists of 2 sentences that anchor the entire conversation. These are the first words out of your mouth when the reporter asks the first question. These first two sentences provide context for the conversation you are about to have. Both sentences must be quotable. The first sentence serves virtually as a headline that sums up your organization’s vision, value, mission and belief. The second sentence points to the 3 key areas that the spokesperson is prepared to talk about. The second sentence begins the foreshadowing process that we talked about in lesson 6. It is this type of foreshadowing that will help the reporter develop his next question for you.

Next, I write 2 more sentences for each of those 3 large branches that grow from the tree trunk. Can you visualize this large oak with 3 large branches? The sentences must again be highly quotable. These sentences add a few more overarching facts and point to other important areas that you may want to talk about. Again, you are foreshadowing other areas that you are prepared to talk about.

Again, this is a technique that I usually take half a day to teach in my “Kick-Butt Key Messages” workshop. But if you can visualize a tree with a large trunk and 3 large branches, you begin to understand how the conversation grows. Then add 3 limbs to each of the large branches. Then add 3 twigs to each of the limbs. Then add 3 leaves to each of the twigs. Draw it out if necessary to fully visualize the tree. Ultimately, just as a tree sprouts limbs, twigs and leaves, your conversation needs to sprout additional sentences with slightly more detail.

In our visualization, the leaves represent great detail while the tree trunk and 3 branches symbolize very basic facts.

If you invest time to populate your tree with verbatim, quotable sentences that you internalize, your next interview will be the easiest interview ever.

Basically, your populated tree has created a full conversation and an interview should be a conversation. It should tell a story.

Additionally, our tree analogy has prepared us to tell our story in the inverted pyramid style – the same style reporters use when they write.

Is this easy? No.

Does it take preparation? Absolutely.

How much 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.

In our next lesson I’ll ask you the question I ask often when I talk to people who use lots of jargon, corporate speak and acronyms. The question is, “What does that mean?”

Secrets to Effective Key Messages for Media Training

KeyMsg1 By Gerard Braud

Do your key messages suck? Most people think not. I think they usually do.

Expert Media Training requires solid key messages. But public relations people have been taught that a key message is little more than giving your spokesperson or CEO a handful of bullet points, then turning them loose to do a media interview.

This spells disaster and here is why.

[ Learn more with PRSA –   ]

In a media interview the goal of the spokesperson should be to deliver a great quote because great quotes manipulate how the reporter writes his or her story. Great quotes seldom come from a spontaneous ad-lib. The greatest quotes are planned, written, and practiced to perfection.

Here is an example of what the average PR person at a hospital might give to his or her CEO in a media training class as they prepare the executive for a media interview.

They may tell the boss, Our three key messages are:

1) patient care

2) our new equipment

3) giving back to the community

The average CEO would then ad-lib: “We have the best doctors and medical staff in tKeyMsg2he state and we’ve won numerous awards. We have the best equipment in our region, including the new super knife computer system that we paid $20-million dollars for. Our surgeons are all well-trained. And I can assure you the care of our patients is our top priority. Plus, we give back to the community”

That’s horrible.

What if your CEO said this: “At Denver Hospital our goal is to be there when you need us the most. We do that by treating those simple illnesses that make you feel crummy; by treating you or your family members when they are challenged by major hospitalization; and by offering wellness care to keep you healthy.”

Which sounds polished? Which sounds professional, yet approachable? Which uses the language of the patient without being sucked into jargon? Which sounds internally focused and self-centered and which sounds as though you truly are putting the customer first?

If you’d like to learn how to effectively write and deliver key messages, join me in Chicago on September 17, 2015 when the Public Relations Association of America (PRSA) presents, Effective Messaging: Writing & Speaking With Words That Resonate

You will spend time evaluating your current messaging. You will learn to write new messaging using a conversational tone. Then, you’ll have a chance to verbally test-drive your messages to determine if they resonate with your audiences.

Great communications is no accident. Great communications requires great writing, practice and implementation.

Media Training and Word Vomit (Ew! Gross)

word vomitBy Gerard Braud

While teaching interview skills in a media training class, a participating executive provided expert insight to the lesson I was teaching.

“So you don’t want us to word vomit everything we know in a media interview, right?” he asked.

That isn’t how I would have phrased it, but now that I think about it, many spokespeople, and the public relations people who write the key messages for the spokespeople, are guilty of “word vomit.”

Before every media training class I teach, I ask the PR team to provide me with their existing key messages. Most are word vomit.

Many public relations people “vomit” every word they can, every cliché they can, and every statistic they can onto the page they submit to me. As you might guess, I have to do major key message re-writes before every media training class.

When a spokesperson is being interviewed, more is less. You must help them fight the urge to say everything they know about the company or organization.

The more you say to a reporter, the more you subject yourself to editing that you may not like.

As gross as it may sound, today’s media training expert advice is:

a) Avoid word vomit when you write your key messages.

b) Avoid word vomit when you are speaking to a reporter in a media interview.

If someone read your key messages right now, would they think, “Ew Gross. Word vomit.”?

If you need help finding the perfect way to write your key messages, check out my “Kick-Butt Key Message” writing program.

Don’t Repeat the Negative – Media Training Expert Tips

You would think that in 2010, spokespeople would be smart enough not to repeat a negative phrase as part of an interview or as a phrase in an advertising campaign. Surprisingly, it still goes on.

This month, the country of Colombia has launched a new tourism campaign. So what do you think of when you think of Columbia? Do you think about the risk of cocaine drug lords, the risk of hostage taking and killings? Do you think about how you might be risking your life if you travel there?

The new Colombian tourism ads use the word “risk.” It’s a nice try at a play on words, but someone should fire the agency that agreed to write and produce these spots.

The commercials are beautiful and enticing on their own. But as soon as you hear the phrase “risk,” it makes you remember the danger, and causes you to second guess any notion of falling in love with the enticing images of the commercial.

This latest example comes on the heels of Christine O’Donnell’s failed run for the U.S. Senate from Delaware. After announcing on cable TV that she dabbled in witchcraft, she tried to defend her candidacy by repeating the phrase, “I’m not a witch” in countless interviews and even used it as the opening phrase in her TV commercials. Dumb, dumb, dumb. If you do a Google search for “I’m not a witch,” O’Donnell comes up several million times.

The rule is, you never repeat a negative word or phrase. As you prepare for your next interview or media training class, purge your answers of the negatives and learn how to answer questions without adding negative phrases.

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Gerard’s Top 5 Tips for 2009 – Day 3 – Wordsmith Wednesday

For 2009 I encourage you to join the legion of followers who partake in a little something I invented called Wordsmith Wednesday.

The reason I invented Wordsmith Wednesday is twofold. First, I hate jargon and there is way too much jargon in organizational communications these days, whether you are with a corporation, government agency or non-profit. Writing with organizational jargon is sometimes easier and faster than writing in a way that the rest of the world can understand. So the first purpose of Wordsmith Wednesday is for you to set time aside to write well and to re-write much of the crap that currently passes for communications.

Secondly, because most organizations have a calendar system that allows co-workers to invite you to meetings, your calendar is constantly filled with unproductive meetings that keep you from getting your work done. Wordsmith Wednesday allows you to mark your calendar to reserve every Wednesday afternoon from noon until 5 p.m. as your time to write. You simply go into your calendar system and block it out beginning this Wednesday and then tell your calendar to repeat it every Wednesday for the next 20 years. That way, when colleagues check your calendar to invite you to a meeting, they’ll see that you are already booked on Wednesday afternoon. Clever, huh?

Now let’s talk about how to spend your time. Writing, especially good writing, is something we all need to do more of. Good writing equals good communications and bad writing equals bad communications.

Good communications should be measured by how well your audience understands what your are trying to say and whether they behave the way you want them to. When I say, your audience, I mean any and everyone who could come to your company to buy your products and services and not just your employees.

When I visit an organization’s website, for example, I often have no idea what the company does because the text contains so much jargon. Usually I find myself asking, “What Does That Mean?” Websites are meant to communicate in a glance.

Jargon filled writing on websites is so bad that it affects your search engine optimization. For example, in a recent writing workshop I was teaching, I went live to and typed in the word Car. None of the major car companies showed up among the top pages. That’s because they sell vehicles and the word vehicle is found all throughout their sites. Folks at home… customers… don’t talk like that. When was the last time you said, “Honey, let’s go get that new vehicle you’ve been wanting.” Believe it or not, vehicles counts as corporate jargon. Try the same test by searching for the word gas. The major oil companies don’t show up in your search because they are energy companies. If my car is low on gasoline, I don’t tell my wife, “Honey, I’m going to get energy for the vehicle.”

Writers get sucked into the corporate jargon machine way too quickly. And we haven’t even touched on all the stupid acronyms. For a full article called, “What Does That Mean?” visit

To improve your writing, forget everything you know about your organization and try something I call Genesis Writing… as in, Genesis in the Bible, where it starts with the phrase, “In the beginning…”

Go back to the roots of your organization and what it does and start with a large, umbrella statement that covers not just the division you work for, but the entire organization.

To begin, fill in the blanks to this sentence: At (blank) our goal is to (blank).

In the first blank you put the name of your employer. Then, in the big picture of helping humanity, determine what your organization does for the greater good, and fill in the second blank. This is your task for your first Wordsmith Wednesday.

The second blank can’t be filled with jargon. It needs to be less tactical and more lofty. For example, a U.S. company that produces oil, gas and electricity might say, at ABC Company, out goal is to power a stronger America.

I’ve seen organizations debate for up to four hours over what goes in the second blank. Take your time. You have all Wednesday afternoon to decide.

Once this sentence is perfected, you’ll find it is the perfect first sentence for your website home page, the first sentence for newsletter articles, the opening line for every speech and media interview. It becomes your defining statement. It points to your vision, value, mission and belief. It becomes your promise statement. And, with some modification, it can become an important tool in search engine optimization for your website.

On your second Wordsmith Wednesday of 2009, I want you to write a second sentence. To write the second sentence, make a list of the 3 most important, biggest profit or service areas of your organization. In addition, think of poster child examples of these. As an example, if we reference back to the ABC Company, we might say, “At ABC Company, our goal is to power a stronger America. Whether you are fueling your car with the oil from our refineries, heating your home with our natural gas, or lighting your home or business with our electricity, each day we work to be here when you need us.”

So your task is to write that second sentence that gives 3 poster child examples of what you do. The sentence needs to be jargon free and focused on your external benefits to society and not your internal goals. Many of the phrases your CEO uses every day will not work in these sentences. If that is the case, your goal is to write new words for your CEO.

I ask you to limit the second sentence to the 3 most important areas because I want you to be able to use these two sentences as the opening statement in a media interview. In media interviews the spokesperson and the listener/reader remember everything better when clustered in 3s. Think of your 3 issues as 3 branches of a large tree.

The following Wednesday, you can delve into more detail by expanding your thoughts and statements about each of the branches. This is the writing technique I teach in my Kick-Butt Key Messages seminars and writing classes, as well as in my workshops on Writing for Search Engine Optimization. I can only teach a small portion here in this forum, so if you have questions just call me at 985-624-9976.

On other Wordsmith Wednesdays you may wish to tackle strategic tasks, such as writing templates for your crisis communications plan. I believe the best way to prepare for a crisis is to write your plan on a clear sunny day without being in the throes of panic and emotion associated with a crisis. In the plans I write, every possible crisis scenario has a pre-written template. That means there is a template for workplace violence, one for pandemic, one for terrorism, one for executive misbehavior, etc.

Much of what you say in the early hours of a crisis is generic, benign information. If you write it out on a calm day you will be able to communicate faster on the day of your crisis because about 75% of what you need to say is already in a word document. Create fill-in-the-blank spaces for information that can only be added on the day of a crisis. Most of the crisis communications plans I help organizations write have 50 to 100 such templates. Each template takes 2-3 hours to write. That should keep you busy for a year or two.

Writing is like love. Your spouse or children shouldn’t get what’s left over at the end of the day; they should get your attention first. Likewise, writing isn’t something that you cram in between all of your other meetings and projects. It is something that you should dedicate quality time to.

For 2009, I suggest you dedicate time to writing on Wordsmith Wednesday.

In our final 2 lessons, we’ll explore my tips for how you should deal with Social Media in 2009.