When you’re trying to have an impact on pretty much anything in politics it usually involves a need to communicate a clear message – whether to a group of people, the media, or both. But in order to cut through the clutter of competing messages and communicate in a way that will make a difference, you need to do a little preparation.
Before You Begin…
Before you develop a message, you really need to be able to address the following points:
- Know your Goal: “Why” are you saying something? What are you trying to accomplish?
- Know your Target: “Who” are you going to say it to?
- Know your Message: “What” are you going to say. Before you develop and refine your message, you need to make sure that you know the subject matter. Are you passionate about it?
When you know the answers to those questions, you’re ready to get started.
Create a Message Map
Creating a “message map” is a simple three-step way to build your overall message.
- Gather all the information that’s relevant to your issue (or campaign) and distill your concerns down into bullet points. This will help you think through the process and focus your arguments.
- Develop a short headline that describes the essence of your issue (or campaign). Try to make it short enough to be “Twitter friendly”.
- Add three or four supporting points, and then some extended points to each of those, (such as including some examples, statistics, stories or news items). A good rule of thumb is to say “three things about three things”…or less if you can!
The result is that all of your content after the main headline (or message) supports that message. The process helps you create an outline (or “map”) for your overall message and will help you further refine it as you go. It will also be a resource later if you need to develop a “theme” for your effort, or as you “package” your message for supporters, the media, print-material or even speeches.
Once you’ve got a good initial draft, then review and refine in in terms of the remaining points in this chapter.
Make it Resonate
Make sure that you describe “why” your message is important in a way that is compelling and relevant to people and fits their value system. People will support an idea (or candidate) that they think can make a difference – or someone who speaks to their values and cares about the things they care about. Remember, a shared concern plus your unique proposal (or qualities) can equal an emotional connection with the audience.
Describe the Key Benefits
Make sure that people understand the key benefits of your position (or the “qualifications” of a candidate). How will your ideas (or candidate) make a difference? What’s in it for them?
Define the Problem to Fit Your Solution
Make sure that you define the problem that your message addresses in such a way that people can easily see how it will be “solved” by the solution or outcome that you’re calling for (or by the unique qualifications of a candidate, if it’s an election situation).
Make it a Choice
A good message will force people to make a choice. It should be framed in such a way that they have only one acceptable choice – yours. Don’t give them an alternative.
Make it Personal
Abstract arguments are not as good as explaining how an issue really impacts people’s lives. Find a victim or a success story that people can relate to and humanize the issue. A victim is a “poster child” who illustrates the problems you want addressed, and a success story illustrates the good things that will happen if your position is successful.
Make it Actionable
Be sure that the message is “actionable” by defining what specific action you want people to take. What do they do after they’ve heard you? And make sure that they can see how the action that you ask them to take will help “fix” the problem.
Keep it Simple and Clear
Muddled messages don’t move people. Keep it simple, clear and to the point so people have absolutely no doubt what it’s about and why it’s important.
Short-Circuit the Opposition’s Arguments
If you understand what your opposition is saying, you will know how to communicate your own message in a way that counters their arguments and undermines their credibility.
If you’re going to go to the trouble of speaking out for a policy or proposal that you believe in, (or even run a campaign), then you may as well go to the (slightly more) trouble of developing a relevant, clear and concise message that can help you be more successful.
Otherwise, what’s the point?