“I DON’T Understand your key message”
My One-on-One and group work with clients involves participants delivering a mock, 45-90 second opening of a presentation or meeting. Often when a person finishes delivering this mock presentation, it is unclear to me, what their key message(s) is. That is, what they want me to retain and/or act upon.
I share this lack of clarity with the person, and suggest what I believe to be the key message – usually in the form of a few bullet points or a couple of sentences – and ask them if those points/sentences are the key messages they wanted to get across.
They regularly retort,
‘Yes, that’s it’ – to which I’ll reply – ‘Then why didn’t you say that?’
The reason, usually, for their unclear speaking, is from not taking enough time to determine what the key messages are, and not taking time to choose, package and express that thinking in simple, concise language, that omits needless words.
Simplicity sells. Complexity confuses. The tighter your speaking the better. If a sentence doesn’t advance your case, drop it.
So how do you determine your key message?
Here’s a deceptively simple, yet powerful process to follow:
Imagine this scenario.
Your boss says,
“I want you to deliver a presentation to me and my peers about X, but I’m only going to give you time to deliver one sentence.”
(An unusual request, but stay tuned).
With this direction you realise that the one sentence must be the most important one – of all the sentences you could speak. So after some pondering time you decide on that one sentence. You speak the sentence and it is clearly understood by your boss/peers.
Then, your boss says, “Ok, I want you to re-deliver the presentation but this time, you can have TWO sentences.” You take time to determine the second, most important sentence. You speak the two sentences and they are clearly understood by your boss/peers.
Next your boss, says,“Now, I want you to re-deliver the presentation but this time, I’ll give you time for THREE sentences.” Again after taking time to determine the third most important sentence, you speak the three sentences, and they are clearly understood by your boss/peers.
Your boss then says, “This time, I want you to re-deliver the presentation but now you have time for TEN sentences.” You spend more time coming up with seven more sentences sequenced in priority order.
Then your boss says, “Now throw away sentences #4-10”.
Through this process you HAVE IDENTIFIED your #1, #2, #3 key messages
Make sure to speak the key messages early in your presentation after your opening ‘hook’ to listen. And speak with conviction.
My field research reveals that most people with power (eg. senior executives) want to use it wisely if someone believable would tell them how, simply and quickly and be able to answer any questions about the presentation.
Here is an explanation of a classic presentation structure.
OWN the Conversation
Adapt and trial the key-message-identifying process, first in safe presentations/interactions. Invest the time before you speak. (It need not be that long). It will pay-off in clear spoken messages, that are understood by your audiences – the first time.
A practical way to do the process is to get ten Post-it notes and place them on a flip chart. As you think of your most important points/sentences write each one in short form on a Post-it note. Then mark and order notes #1-10 – before discarding #4-10.
p.s. Check out this post that contains my Top presenting tips
p.p.s. On the theme of ‘simplicity sells’ and stripping down thinking to its simples form, here is a excerpt of the thinking process of Dwight D. Eisenhower, American army general and statesman, from the book Eisenhower in War and Peace by Jean Edward Smith,
Eisenhower explaining his thought process of the Formosa question
‘We must make a distinction (this is a difficult one) between an attack that has only as its objective the capture of an offshore island and one that is primarily a preliminary movement to an all-out attack on Formosa.
More and more I find myself, in this type of situation – and perhaps it is because of my advancing years – tending to strip each problem down to its simplest form. Having gotten the issue well defined in my mind, I try in the next step to determine what answer would best serve the long term advantage and welfare of the United States and the free world.
I then consider the immediate problem and what solution we can get that will best conform to the long term interests of the country and at the same time can command a sufficient approval in this country so as to secure the necessary Congressional action.
When I get a problem solved on this rough basis, I merely stick to the essential answer and let associates (Dulles? Nixon?) have a field day on the words and terminology.
Whatever is to happen, I know that nothing could be worse than a global war.’