A Guide to Writing Effective Talking Points

Photo by Crew on Unsplash

Marketing and communications professionals are responsible for creating talking points for media interviews, speeches, product launches, creative briefs, and much more. The talking points document is a foundational communications tool, used to help effectively shape and share messages with your audience (to read more about messaging, read my blog about delivering news to your stakeholders). While it may seem complex, when you break it down, you’ll find that the best talking points are the result of curiosity, attention to detail, a positive attitude, thinking from different perspectives and the willingness to put in the time.

When you begin developing your talking points, it is essential to think through every aspect of what you are trying to communicate. You should be thinking about your loyal customers and your biggest critics reaction to each talking point. When you create your message based on several different points of view, you are ensuring the points won’t leave room for ambiguity and you will likely be able to silence a majority of your detractors.

Below are 12 tips to help you create effective talking points. The guide below should be used as an outline. It’s important to note, you won’t end up using everything that you write throughout this process. The point of going through each step is to help you think through your talking points and ensure thoroughness. Once you complete the process, you’ll review the work and then select the most important points. By putting in the time, you’ll hone in on the message that will resonate with all types of audiences.

1. Outline the Five W’s
Start with the basics. Think through the who, what, when, where, why, and how. Don’t just gloss over this point as it is the foundation to your talking points. This is your time to get in the weeds and think through what is most important. You might be surprised what will reveal itself when you take the time to think through things.

2. Tell the Truth, and Stick to the Facts
You should always be truthful when creating your talking points. The best way to do this is to stick to the facts. In today’s world, people can tell when you aren’t authentic or if you are trying to spin the message.  

3. Make It Exciting and Focus on the Positive
It is always best to focus on the positive. This is your chance to share the great news about the benefits, features, differentiators, progress, etc. Look for all the positive aspects and use stories. Then find a way to weave the personal stories and highlights into your talking points.  

4. If There Are Negative Topics to Address, Tackle Them Head On
It is inevitable that you will have to create talking points to address a crisis or negative attention. Don’t hide from your mistake. Instead, acknowledge the error and focus on what you are doing to fix the issue. People appreciate those that take ownership and come to the table with a solution. When determining your talking point about the unfortunate issue, don’t forget about tip number two.

5. Make It About the Consumer
As with all things related to marketing and communications, you must consider your audience. Be sure what you write will resonate with the people that will be receiving your message.

6. Think About How the Skeptics Might Respond and Incorporate Counter-Arguments
It is likely that there will be people that will try to poke holes in your talking points. Beat them to it by thinking like a skeptic. What will their arguments be for why you are wrong or why your product won’t do the things you say it will. If you need a source of inspiration, look at the comments in your product reviews and on your social media channels.

7. Be Aware of Your Biases and Heuristics
When we work for companies and people that need talking points, we likely care deeply about its/their success. It is easy to let our emotions overrun our logic. Resist the desire to get caught up in only how you see the company. Remember you have inside knowledge that your audience doesn’t have, and that can cloud your ability to think logically about what information to share. Instead, think like an outsider and question everything.

8. Think About Who Will Be Delivering the Talking Points
Sometimes talking points are used in written format and other times they are delivered verbally. Either way, you must make sure the talking points are in the same voice and tone as the person delivering them to ensure they come off as authentic.  

9. Look for gaps in Your Talking Points
Now that you have made it this far, review your work and look for any holes in the messaging. What is missing? What bullet point could use more detail? How can you position the message differently? A great way to identify gaps is to test the talking points on someone that isn’t as familiar with the topic or isn’t as invested. Having a fresh perspective will help you refine and maximize your message.

10. Could a Fifth Grader Understand What You Are Talking About
Make sure you don’t include any company or industry jargon or acronyms. If your message is meant for the general population, don’t use fancy vocabulary that won’t translate properly to your audience. Finally, don’t include too many figures (remember tip three, you don’t want to bore people with too many statistics and numbers – unless your talking points are meant for a finance/accounting/shareholder audience).

11. Keep Them Short and Simple
You shouldn’t include more than three to five bullets because talking points are meant to be high level. Don’t get bogged down in the details. Share the highlights and leave the minutia for your internal meetings. People have a short attention span and the media just takes short clips for their articles or broadcasts, so keep it brief.  

12. Organize Your Points by Priority
Now that you have worked your way through all the detail, it is time to get your red pen out. Identifying a select few key points and focus on making them as impactful and informative as possible. Now that you’ve created effective talking points, don’t forget the call to action.

By putting in the effort, you are ensuring positive results with your talking points. It is also entirely possible that your diligent work may have identified a potential issue and the team now has time to fix it before sharing the big news. Your company and the spokesperson will thank you for helping them prepare. Odds are you won’t use the talking points just once, so after the first time, review the outcome and make adjustments. As you gain experience, following these tips will become second nature.

If you are still struggling to write relevant and engaging talking points, read Struggling to Write Good Talking Points? Here’s Why. by Rachel Hart.

What tips do you have to create flawless talking points? Leave a comment below.

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