6 Questions for a Better Key Message

Jane Sheffield
Lead Trainer & Owner
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Most ineffective presentations have way too much information in them.

That’s because it’s hard to prioritise which information is needed – and which is best left out. A way to say less, is to base your presentation around a key message.

A key message brings focus to a presentation. Focus for you when preparing. And focus for your audience when they are listening. 

But how do you develop a good key message?
Here are 6 questions for you to ask yourself when crafting your next key message to make sure it ‘packs a punch’.

Question 1: What do I want my audience to know or do? 

Let’s respect everyone’s time, by first establishing what you are looking to achieve. Do you want them to do something? Think something? Know something?

 Question 2: Does it convey a message?

The topic of your presentation is not your key message. To check you’re not confusing the two, ensure there’s a verb in your key message.

For example, your topic might be:  Health and safety incident records. Rewrite that into a key message targeted to your audience, by turning “records” into a verb: “We must record every health and safety incident.” Immediately, you transform a general chit-chat into a purposeful statement.

Question 3: Do I talk like this?

There’s a difference between the language we use when we’re speaking, versus when we’re writing. Your key message should be in spoken language. Here’s an example of written language: “Educators should maximise the potential of technology in education”. In spoken language, it would be: “Teachers can make better use of technology”.

Question 4: Is my key message specific and concrete?

Your audience should be able to “see” your key message. If it’s full of jargon or abstract conceptual words, they can’t. For example, this message, “Implementing urban design principles will ensure that this roading project is sustainable” is far more concrete when transformed to: “Adding cycleways and walkways will reduce pollution.” Jargon might make you feel knowledgeable, but it can easily confuse and alienate your audience.

Question 5: Is the relevance to your audience clear?

One effective way of ensuring this is to include the word “you” in the key message. For example, “Changes to the Emissions Trading Scheme will allow foresters using averaging accounting to offset their liability by planting an equivalent forest elsewhere.  Say what? This will be gobbledegook for the audience of foresters. But as soon as we think about those foresters and what we really want to tell them – “Changes to the scheme will give you more flexibility over your land.” – we transform the message.

Question 6. Does it say something your audience already know?

Your audience is there for something new. Avoid clichés. A course participant shared this key message, “People are our greatest asset”. Hmm. Heard that before! I asked her what she meant, specifically. So, she came back with this key message: “As we’ve grown, we’ve needed different types of people.” Much more tailored and interesting!

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