The psychology behind creating messages that resonate

We’ve got a webinar coming up soon about the science behind making messages memorable – you may have received one or two emails about it…

Having listened to our expert panellists discuss some of the topics they will cover during the event, I know it is going to be one you won’t want to miss.

And I thought I’d whet your appetite by giving you a sneaky peek at some of what they will cover.

We all know that delivering the right message at the right time to the right person is crucial.

But how do you create a message that resonates and inspires people into taking action?

Here are some great tips I picked up from listening to Graham Jones, one of our expert tutors, and Dr Lynda Shaw, a cognitive neuroscientist and business psychologist.



Perhaps unusually for a blog about message development, I’m not going to start with the message.

Instead, I want to focus on how you support your message.

A lot has been said about storytelling and, the word has become something of a buzzword.

But it is fascinating to hear Lynda discuss the science behind why stories are such a crucial component of compelling messages.

“The story is vital,” she said. “You activate so many more aspects of the brain when you are telling a story. When you use them, you are giving the audience more to go on.

“And you are enabling them to process information more quickly. The brain has a cacophony of stimuli around it at any one time, and it has to have shortcuts to enable it to operate.

“When we talk about attention, it is there to enable the brain to focus on one bit of information and ignore everything else. And stories enable more of that attention or conscious focus.”



Another reason why stories play a crucial role is that people are naturally curious.

Think about our everyday conversations. They are all about stories involving other people. And the ones we remember and retell are those that are unusual or unexpected.

This is something we cover during our media training and message development & testing courses. We often use the TRUTH acronym – which, incidentally, Graham helped us to create.

If you are not familiar with it, it stands for Timely, Relevant, Unusual, Trouble and Human. And the ‘unusual’ component can often be the crucial factor in something that resonates.

Lynda said: “The brain loves curiosity. If there is one thing that is going to maintain attention, it is novelty. When people go “that’s interesting”, you are stimulating a desire to want to remember that particular thing more.

“It is the element of surprise. People notice the unusual. So, brands have to be brave and say something unexpected.”



I feel like I’m writing this blog in reverse order. But before we look in more detail at creating the message, I want to focus on how it is delivered.

You can create a brilliant message. But if you don’t have someone to tell it well, it will fall flat.

You need someone who can share stories – particularly personal ones – to bring it to life.

But they should also have the freedom to put the message in their own words and use the language they would naturally say. On our media training courses, we often talk about ‘loosening the message noose’, and it is vital spokespeople know they don’t need to repeat messages verbatim.

Graham also believes they should focus on speaking to just one person – real or imaginary – when getting the message across.

He said: “The way I always think about it is to ignore the journalist and to think about the person at the other end. That is the person you are really talking to.

“I always have a person in mind because if you know the listeners to BBC 5 Live at 10am have an average age of 30-35, are mainly male, and like sport, you can build a picture, and I will then have a person in mind. And I then imagine that I am talking to that person. Whatever the question is, it doesn’t really matter – I’m talking to that person.

“One of the things that gets me when I listen to the radio is when they say “everyone out there”. I’m listening on my own, I’m not “everyone out there”. When someone says that, they are immediately excluding me – they should be talking to me as an individual.” 

Another crucial point about delivery is repetition. We often hear spokespeople who have a strong message and then 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.

Don’t just take my word for it, there is science at play here.

Lynda said: “Repetition is the illusion of truth. The more you hear something, the more you believe it to be true. This is quite a famous phenomenon that we have in psychology.”


FREE webinar: The science behind making memorable messages

Join us on Wednesday 21 July, between 11am and 12pm, as Graham Jones and Dr Lynda Shaw explore how people interpret messages, what comms professionals need to consider to make them memorable, and how to cut through the noise.


But what about the message?

Simple language is crucial. People switch off when they don’t understand what is being said.

This is something we have looked at in the media training blog before. But it is reassuring to hear it reinforced by much cleverer people than me.

“Messages need to be simple and clear,” said Lynda. “When you use jargon, you end up talking to a small audience who understand what you are trying to say.

“It is also important to bear in mind you are talking to a multi-cultural audience. We are a multi-cultural country, and most countries are going the same way. So, you have to keep that in mind, stick to simple language and make sure you stay clear of colloquialisms.”

A little tip I would add from our training is that your message needs to be a single sentence of fewer than 20 words and take around 15 seconds to deliver.




Graham believes that the internal comms around your external comms is vital.

He believes senior leaders shy away from simple language and the unexpected in preference for safer and duller corporate language. And he feels they should be educated on why this does not work.

He said: “Comms managers have to try and cut through approval processes because senior leaders will tend to want the message to be corporate. They won’t want it to have any kind of unusual aspect.

“Comms manager have an internal comms job to do in terms of making sure those who approve messages understand why you need to do it this way. They have to understand it is about being memorable, not corporate.”


What else?

Well, there is plenty of other things that Graham and Lynda will discuss. But I’m not going to spoil the webinar for you.

Register now to find out more about how our experts believe your message can stand out from the noise, techniques for being persuasive, the power of emotion and humility, and much more.

You will also get the chance to put your questions to Graham and Lynda.

It takes place on Wednesday 21 July at 11am. 


Media First are media and communications training specialists with over 35 years of experience. We have a team of trainers, each with decades of experience working as journalists, presenters, communications coaches and media trainers. 


Click here to find out more about our message development and testing courses.


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