For Effective Public Speaking, Ask: Will This Key Message Get Me What I Want?

Just before Thanksgiving, I blogged about how you could save the day by using a Key Message to defuse family fights. The examples of Key Messages I gave  in that post were:

  • To Mom, who’s hassling your sister: “I’m just glad that we could all be together today.”
  • To Uncle John, who loves Paul Ryan: “I’m sure he’ll get another shot.”
  • To Cousin Jane, who’s sneering at Uncle John’s politics: “Hey, no fighting in front of the turkey!”

You can pretty much see what each of these messages was intended to do: Turn Mom from criticism to gratitude; placate Uncle John by suggesting that his candidate will rise again; and gently tell Cousin Jane to stop trying to pick a fight.

Thinking backward from the desired outcome is a great way to find your Key Message; and that’s how I got to these examples.

So a Key Message Can Get Me What I Want. But Just What Is A Key Message?

At its simplest, your Key Message is the biggest, most true, and most important thing you have to say about any given topic.  It’s literally the point you’re setting out to prove.

As I explain in my book on public speaking, Speak Like Yourself… No, Really!, your Key Message is also the key to off-the-cuff remarks, Q&A, job interviews, and more. And if you’re giving a presentation, it:

  • Begins your speech;
  • Ends your speech; and
  • Determines how you’ll organize everything else in your speech.

Your Key Message plays this prominent role because it’s the main thing you want your audience to hear, internalize, and understand.

Here are some examples from my book. Can you tell what each of these speakers would like to have happen?

  • “These car seats have won Consumer Reports’ top rating for child safety in each of the past five years.”
  • “My experience and qualifications are perfect for your company.”
  • “I love you.”

Your Key Message is Like a One-Sentence Speech

A good Key Message passes the two “Key to the Key” tests in this illustration:

  •  If it’s the only thing your audience remembers, you’ll have done your communications job; and
  • If your audience believes your Key Message, you’ll be closer to getting what you want.

So next time you have to make an important point, or create an effective presentation, start by thinking about your Key Message.

Be a GREAT Public Speaker!