This is where you define what your messages are. What are you hoping your target audiences will take away from your communications efforts? These often form the sound bites used for media interviews.
Your key messages will form the foundation for all the messages that your organization puts out. These should be simple, and relatively short. The essence of a key message should be about the length of an elevator pitch. They should be repeatable, but have enough depth that you can modify them to the situation within which its being used.
An example of a key message could be: “We provide our city with the most engaging public arts demonstrations in the province.” Using this example, you could mention some of the exhibitions that the organization had put on, and how they helped patrons connect with the demonstration. You could guide someone through what the experience would be like to attend, or give a behind the scenes of preparing for a demonstration. The same key message could be repeated to artists, patrons, media and more, although the specifics of how you would talk about it would be tailored to each type of audience.
One of the dangers of using a key message is that if someone is unprepared and doesn’t have examples to use, the key message can sound repetitive, or look like they’re avoiding questions. Make sure that anyone who is speaking on behalf of the organization knows the operations of the organization so that they can answer questions about the key message in a variety of different ways.
Try to keep the messages presenting ideas in a positive light. You are going to be using these messages to represent your organization, and you’ll want people to remember the positive parts of your organization.
The number of key messages should be limited. Try to keep the number of messages to 3 or fewer so that your organization’s communication can be coherent and consistent. With larger organizations, the number can be expanded. You can also use additional key messages if you are launching a new product or service.
After you’ve written your key messages, reduce them to a single sentence.
To refine your messages and get to the heart of what they’re about, ask why and how? With the above example or arts demonstrations, the why might be because the founders were impacted by arts groups in their childhood and they want to share the same experience. The how might be by finding and encouraging collaboration between artists, musicians and actors to create a whole that is greater than the parts. Push yourself to find the deepest parts of your key messages by asking why and how at every step.
Whenever you get stuck or think you are finished, imagine you are telling a 5 year old the message. If they are still able to ask why or how, then you can probably refine the message further. There will come a point when you can’t refine it further, but then the why and how exercise will allow you to come up with more side details and explanations that will serve you well once you are sharing the messages.
Finally, strip away any acronyms, jargon or other insider language. Your key messages should be able to be understood by anyone. They should be equally clear to a 14-year-old student, a 58-year-old construction worker, and a 30-year-old stockbroker. Keep it clear and simple.
That being said, the key messages should be modified based on the audience that you or the spokesperson will be speaking to. You wouldn’t use the same wording of a message for a high-school presentation as you would with a TV media interview. You should also consider changing the form of the message based on how much the audience knows about your organization. Review the wording and modify as necessary whenever you’re preparing for a different presentation.