People tend to think that having a great idea is enough, and they think the communication part will come naturally. We are in deep denial about the difficulty of getting a thought out of our own heads and into the heads of others. It’s just not true that, “If you think it, it will stick…” Chip and Dan Heath, from their book –Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die
A “sticky” message is the number one thing you want your audience to understand remember and act on as a result of your presentation. The “sticky” message incorporates your persuasive message and stories and evidence to support it. Start your design of your presentation by deciding on your “Sticky Message”. It will make the rest of the design and development processes and decisions more in synch, concise and compelling. After you have this AHA moment and settled on a “Sticky Message” the rest of your presentation seems to flow from this over-riding “big idea”. Other relevant material will fall into place and you will be confident that you are ready to enter the deliberative practice phase of presentation development.
If you’re preparing a presentation on a topic you know well, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t be able to decide on your key message quickly. I’ve trained hundreds of people and there’s not one that’s been unable to come up with a key message within 5-10 minutes!
For the skeptics out there you may raise the issue of locking in to soon to a message You may be thinking that once you’ve got a key message, you can’t change it as you carry on with your planning. This boulderdash! Think of your Sticky Message a guiding star not the North Star. With pract and feedback phases in front of you there will be plenty of time to refine and change your message if you find that it’s not quite working fto connect with the audience.
Or maybe you’re expecting the perfect, clever and catchy key message to come to you fully-formed. If that does happen to you – you’re lucky. But more often a sticky message is a result of observation, testing, feedback and knowledge of your audience and many re-crafting sessions.
There are three steps to crafting your Sticky Message:
1. Answer this question
What do you want your audience to remember or do as a result of your presentation? Say your answer out loud. Don’t try and be clever or quirky or catchy – you’ll freeze up. Just say what first comes into your mind – now write that down. It may not be “the perfect” message. It may need a bit of work. But is it good enough as a starting point.
2. Craft it. Make Message Audience-Centered
Now that you’ve got your basic key message, craft it so that it becomes easy to say, easy to understand and easy to remember and pass-on to others. Here’s the checklist to go through to craft your key message:
- Is it as clear, concise and simple?
The shorter your key message the easier it will be for you to say, and for your audience to grasp and remember. But there is such a thing as too short. Brevity should not come at the expense of meaning. The length of a Twitter message – 140 characters – is a good rule of thumb.
- Does it convey an understanding of your presentation purpose, meaning or challenge?
The overriding topic of your presentation is not your sticky message. Check that you’re not confusing the two by ensuring there’s a verb in your key message.
For example, your topic might be “Cost of new Health Care Plan and positive impact on individual health.”. Rewrite that into a sticky message by turning into an action position and more specific by saying “We must reduce cost, increase positive outcomes and patient satisfaction with the new Health Care processes and plan.”
- A more subtle example of a topic being confused with a key message is this “How you can make the New Health Care plan work for all of us”. It’s got a verb, but it’s not telling your audience anything. Ask yourself – what’s the main thing I want to tell the audience about making the new Health Care plan result in lower cost, patient satisfaction and outcome point of view? The answer is your sticky message, for example: “The New Health care plan can reduce costs cover th uninsured, increase effectiveness and patient satisfaction step by step over the long- term .
3. Is it in spoken common everyday language?
There’s difference between the language we use when we’re speaking to experts to when we are speaking to a less sophisticated audience. Your key message should be in spoken and common everyday language not in jargon ridden technical language, think here about the conversations with your doctor about a diagnosis or treatment plan. Are you loss in the first three minuets of an explanation because of the technical language they use?
- Is it specific, concrete and tangible?
Your audience should be able to “see” and if possible touch your key message. If it’s full of jargon or abstract, conceptual or theoritical words they won’t. For example this message “Implementing urban design principles will ensure that this project is sustainable” could be transformed to “Adding bike paths and walkways will reduce pollution.”
- Does the SM create curiosity and provide relevance to capture the audience members interest and attention?
One effective way of ensuring this is to include the word “you” in the key message. For example “The forestry sector entered the Emissions Trading Scheme in the first commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol.” will probably be gobbledegook for an audience of foresters. It could be transformed to: “You can now earn carbon credits from your forests.
- Does it say something your audience doesn’t know
Your audience is there for something new. Don’t give them clichés and platitudes. A course participant came up with this key message “People are our greatest asset”. Yawn! I asked her specifically what she meant. She came up with this key message “As we’ve grown, we’ve needed different types of people.” Much more interesting.
This doesn’t mean that you have to come up with something clever. There’s a risk that if you come up with something clever, your audience won’t get it. Or they’ll spend the next few seconds working out what you meant and so miss what you said next. In a spoken presentation, clarity trumps clever.
4. Feedback and Framework for of “Sticky Messages”
There are a number of tests to check that you’ve got a memorable key message. The key in your delivery is that you remember it! You need to be able to say it with confidence and passion without your notes. Test yourself.
Then say it to a colleague – see if they can say it back to you. You may find that they say it back to you in a way which is easier to grasp. In which case change it.
An hour later, ask your review team to listen and give you feedback on the memorable and believability of your message. Ask the team the next day if they remember the “sticky Message. If they can still remember it a day later, well done – you’ve got yourself a memorable sticky and believable message.