Having a powerful key message is a fundamental principle of any media interview.
Whether you have a new product you are about to launch, have made a crucial scientific discovery or have been making news for negative reasons, you need a message that compels, convinces and persuades the audience.
But how do you get that message right and how can you be confident it is going to work?
We’ve put together eight tips from our message development and testing courses.
Focus on one message
You’ll often hear people talk about the importance of ‘three key messages’. It is a common media training tip.
But we don’t subscribe to that thinking and believe that three messages are too many. The reality is that no matter how well you do in a media interview, the audience is unlikely to remember more than one major point you make.
We urge spokespeople on our courses to focus on establishing one key message.
Be clear on what you want the audience to do
The audience plays a crucial role in creating a powerful message.
You need to be clear on exactly who you are targeting and what you want them to do as a result of hearing your message.
Do you want them to be motivated into taking some form of action? Do you want them to be persuaded by a particular point or argument? Maybe you simply want to raise awareness of a product, initiative or campaign.
Keep it simple
If you want people to remember your message you need to keep it short and simple.
It needs to be a single sentence of fewer than 20 words, contain simple language – no corporate-speak - and take around 15 seconds to deliver.
Anything longer, or containing complex language, will be too difficult for people to recall.
Loosen the messaging noose
You may have carefully crafted the key message, but it might still contain language your spokesperson is not comfortable using.
But that’s ok because messages do not need to be repeated verbatim – apart from anything else, that is going to be boring for the audience.
Empowering and encouraging spokespeople to use the language they are comfortable with will help make messages memorable and bring them to life.
A key message needs to be supported by examples in a media interview, otherwise it will become little more than rhetoric.
And the most impactful examples are those which are personal to the spokesperson.
These stories and anecdotes help to make the story relevant to the audience and bring it to life – people are naturally curious and want to hear stories about other people.
Let’s say, for example, you are launching a new product which aims to help elderly people live in their own homes for longer. A story about looking after an elderly relative in this situation and how this product will help them will help people to see and understand the benefits.
Additionally, personal stories provide a human side to an organisation and can help spokespeople grow in confidence in an interview.
Statistics can also play an important role here, but they need to be used carefully and creatively.
If you heard that 3.3 million in their early twenties and thirties live with their parents, would that mean much?
What about if that is turned around to one in four people in their early twenties and thirties live with their parents? Suddenly the figure is brought to life, is put in context and has more of a wow factor.
Similarly, a story saying that 55 million litres of paint are thrown away every year is hard to visualise. Is it a lot? But if it is presented as enough paint to fill 20 Olympic-sized swimming pools we then have a visual image of what the wasted paint looks like.
Stick with it
We often come across spokespeople on our media training courses who have a strong key message, but they only use it once.
If you want a message to resonate with your audience you need to stick with it and repeat it.
Repetition will strengthen the message. But don’t fall into the trap of using the same language – that will bore the journalist and the audience.
Create some variants of your message that you can use in media interviews.
No matter how strong your message, there is a risk it will not be heard if spokespeople do not prepare properly for a media interview.
Challenging questions, negative subjects and questions on wider issues all have the potential to become the focus of the interview if they are not handled well.
That’s why, when preparing a message, we encourage spokespeople to also spend time considering the difficult questions and other issues which could be brought into the interview.
Once you are confident you have a good message, put it to the test.
Is it clear? Does it inspire? Is it emotionally engaging?
We believe that journalists, with their understanding of how different audiences work, are ideally placed to vigorously test and refine a message before it goes out to a wider audience.
This is something we are being increasingly asked by our clients to help with and we can test messages across a range of media interview formats. Find out more about our message development and testing courses here.
Media First are media and communications training specialists with over 30 years of experience. We have a team of trainers, each with decades of experience working as journalists, presenters, communications coaches and media trainers.
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