Before going on a trip into the unknown, you type the destination’s address into your digital map to keep yourself on track.
The equivalent of GPS for strategic communications is a messaging document.
Formulating and re-crafting messages should be standard operating procedure for communicators, whether it is for our overall organizational message or specific projects and initiatives.
In addition to doing this as part of our work, we also need to teach colleagues in our organizations (executives, subject matter experts, and thought leaders) to create or fine-tune individual messaging.
Mobilizing “ambassadors” to serve as advocates for our brands is one of the most economical and efficient ways to move the needle.
Message training is one way to do this.
Many focus their training on social media and delivering traditional media interviews.
Message training is often overlooked, or hastily covered in media training.
I am of the opinion that before doing any media training (traditional or digital), it is imperative to begin with message training.
Messaging serves as the cornerstone for dissemination tactics.
There should be a common thread between messages and one’s visibility on traditional and digital channels.
During the past four years of running my business, I have led key message training for researchers and other subject matter experts from several different organizations.
If you have never done this, or if you would like to revamp how you are leading such message training, here are some points to consider.
Believe it or not, there are still skeptics out there who might be hesitant to communicate to audiences.
Barriers include the time it takes to communicate to audiences, the fear of trolls, stepping into the unknown, or believing that everything has to be handled by communications.
It is important to show the benefits of putting yourself out there.
Ideally you would do it through examples your audience can relate to, such as successful communicators in your organization or industry.
For a recent training, I arranged a live Q&A interview with a subject matter expert who is an efficient and strategic communicator.
By hearing from someone like “them,” attendees were bought into the importance of communicating, and that made a big difference during message training.
Think through the Big Picture
Formulating messaging forces one to think about overarching goals: What are we trying to achieve; what does success look like; who are the key audiences I am trying to influence?
Many dive right into tactics before thinking through these questions.
These same individuals often give up because they do not see results.
That is evident, as results aren’t defined.
Hence it is important to cover this area towards the beginning of message training.
Highlight Best Practice and Templates
I would suggest you do the same in your training.
Also follow up by showing best practice and templates workshop attendees can use to model for their work.
For example, after showing a thought leader’s key messages in a workbook, I include three pages in which attendees are prompted to fill out their key messages.
Under each message, is a section where participants can write in the proof points related to each key message.
Stories, Please. No Jargon!
I interviewed different journalists and experts in the process of preparing my message training program.
A common refrain is that stories and examples are what make messages stick.
We remember stories (take a look at this piece in The Guardian highlighting research on how we remember stories).
Examples and stories are also critical to being rid of jargon.
Benefits, not Features
A common mistake our colleagues make in formulating key messages is to focus on features instead of benefits.
It is important to emphasize in your training that key messages should link to how targeted audiences can help.
Cascade via Short Summaries
Key messaging is a communications assets reflected in the entire PR mix.
To begin this process, I suggest you encourage your workshop attendees to craft a tagline of five to eight words that summarizes their overall messages.
This tagline should be the overarching theme of all the messages.
It will not only be the five to eight words that should be associated with the brand or project.
But can also be used in social media bios and be the phrase everyone internally can remember.
Flesh this out further by having workshop attendees write out a one-paragraph summary (three to five sentences) and then a more extensive About Us summary.
There should be a common thread between the key messaging exercise, the tagline, and these reviews.
Over time, all of this cascades through the entire public relations mix (paid, earned, owned, and shared media).
Group training is an ideal opportunity to facilitate peer learning.
As workshop instructors, we often think it is our job to do the majority of the talking and that learning will come from us.
That is not true.
I keep in mind the 70-20-10 model for organizational learning: Seventy percent of learning takes place from actual assignments; 20 percent from peer education; and 10 percent from instruction.
We should focus on providing content and an environment that enables learning to take place from actual assignments and peers.
Therefore, when leading training, consider providing ample time to colleagues to share their opinions and responses with each other and then as a group.
Also give sufficient time to begin working individually on key messaging during the workshop and afterward.
Message Training Follow-up
Building on point seven, it is imperative that you provide follow-up support.
You might be the most entertaining and informative presenter out there, but if participants don’t do something, what value has been derived from the training?
As part of my training, I provide one-to-one follow-up support one month after the actual workshop.
Most importantly, this instills accountability and ensures that the individuals are taking action and doing the follow-up work.
This follow-up is then an opportunity to provide further support as it relates to attendees’ contexts.
I encourage you not to overlook this step.
From my experience, more learning happens here than at any point during the actual workshop.
Do you lead messaging training?
If yes, what would you add to or take away from this list? Share questions and comments.