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Media and Crisis Management

Candidates Must Focus Their Messages

Posted on: July 29th, 2012

Presentations: Candidates Must Focus Their MessagesPolitics

Local and regional political candidates must speak with rifle-shot clarity. Unlike those running for top offices like US Senate, they usually get little attention from the public and press. So, every word counts. Sweeping generalities don’t. My recommendations:

Media Interviews

With media interviews rare, you must grab the few opportunities by the throat.

Create sound-bite nuggets. Convert your political promises to sound bite form. Instead of discourses, the public and the media need easy-to-remember nuggets. Easy for them. Easy for you. These nuggets should connect at a gut level. Repeat the nuggets. Vary the wording to avoid sounding like a robot. Reinforce them with your issue knowledge when elaboration is necessary, but keep repeating. All roads lead to Rome. Your nuggets – your key messages – are Rome. I recommend no more than 3 of these key messages.

Warning! Your credibility rests on your ability to answer tough legitimate questions. For all the importance of key messages, there is no substitute for knowledge. To be a successful candidate you must have satisfactory answers for legitimate questions from reporters and voters.

Nail your Q&A’s. Therefore, in addition to the 3 key messages, develop a list of questions and answers on the hot-button issues. This list will give you even more nuggets of knowledge that you can toss out in conversations with media and public. Put the Q&A’s on flash cards: questions on one side, answers on the other. Flip through the cards and practice snappy answers. Take the cards wherever you go and rehearse when you have a moment. Put them on your bedside table.

Rehearse. With a good friend, practice “satisfying and steering.” “Satisfy” questions that are asked, and “steer” discussions back to your 3 key messages – those nuggets.

Retreat to your safe harbor when necessary. Consider your key messages as your ”safe harbor,” a place to return when a conversation or interview is drifting and you are not sure where to go. Find a way to get back to that safe harbor of messages, that home base where you should spend most of your time. Example: A network reporter interviewed a local executive for 2 hours about a controversial issue – 2 hours! The executive later told me that the barrage of questions spun his head. However, he remembered that whenever he got confused, all he had to do was return to his safe harbor to get out of trouble. It worked. His was not a political interview, but the process is the same.

Stump Speeches

And what about the stump speech for the myriad civic club lunches and other public appearances? Let me give you an anecdote to suggest a straightforward, incredibly simple approach.

Several years ago a client candidate with a proclivity for verbosity wanted a better speech. Together, we drew on a flipchart an outline like we all used for high school term papers. We listed her key political promises (messages) as I, II, and III. For example, I. Attract More Businesses, II. Create More Jobs, and III. Hire More Teachers.

Next, we outlined her means of fulfilling those promises as A, B, C. For example, under I. Attract More Businesses, we’d put A. Offer greater local incentives, B. Create more state incentives, and C. Build new industrial parks. And so on….

Next, without using notes, the candidate followed the flipchart outline to rehearse the speech. She “talked it” conversationally and conceptually. She could complete it in about 8 minutes. That may seem short, but the brevity sharpened her messages and eliminated vague monologues. She rehearsed repeatedly. Then, when it was time for the actual speech, she spoke from the outline on index cards. A newspaper reporter took notes in the audience. Incredibly, his article on the speech was nearly word for word from her talk, and it followed much of our outline on the flipchart. It was like we wrote the story ourselves. That’s a good, tight, focused stump speech at work.

Message focus – it’s essential for media and speeches, candidate or not.

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