How CEOs can unearth a valuable, strong key message

Are you a Senior Executive who’s missing the point?

You can’t influence without a strong key message. Yet leading executives often struggle to find a golden nugget of information to convey. My clients have a ‘light bulb moment’ when I show them how to frame their ideas differently to achieve buy-in.

As one CEO told me recently, “I’m amazed that our organisation has become so successful over the years, when we really don’t know how to communicate.”

Imagine how much more successful he could be, with exceptional communication skills to enhance his conversations, meetings and presentations.

The value of a strong key message

As a BBC journalist for many years, my job was to condense complex, often lengthy details into easy-to-understand descriptions. The first line of each report had to encompass the whole story, telling the audience everything they needed to know, in a bite-sized chunk. The aim was to grab and hold interest. Based on my ‘top line’, the audience would make up their minds whether to keep listening/watching, or switch off.

The process of devising a strong key message follows exactly the same principles. The message must encompass your whole argument. You can flesh out the details later, but if people hear the key message and then stop paying attention, at least they will grasp the main point.

How news delivers a strong key message

News stories are chosen for their novelty (change), relevance and impact to the audience. Stories with greater novelty, relevance and impact are considered to be the most important issues of the day. They make it into the headlines while others lag behind. The skateboarding duck, for example, is less relevant and has less impact, so will only ever appear at the end of a bulletin (unless the audience happens to be made up of ducks).

The same tenets hold true in the business world. If what you’re saying is new, you’ll have a chance of being heard. If your point is not new, there is no point in saying it, as it will only frustrate other people. Instead, find a different angle that makes it fresh. Or frame your message in a different way to stress the novelty.

A strong key message equates to pure gold

Gold miners dutifully sift through tons of rock, gravel and dirt to yield just a single ounce of gold. They know the treasure is in there somewhere, and examining massive amounts of debris is worth their efforts.

Creating a strong key message requires similar patience and dedication, as well as practice. Many of us work in information-rich jobs, where there is a danger of getting lost in the sand and gravel of the details. When you want to communicate some of those details, people need to hear the story behind them first. In other words, what do the details actually mean?

Putting information into context, and providing your readers/audience with a clear overview, will help them understand your message easily and recognise its importance.

Framing your message appropriately is fundamental. Get rid of the detail – at least for the moment – and focus on what really matters: the implications. These implications are the most critical elements of a strong key message.

Sift the details to find your nugget

Look at the information you’re planning to put across, and ask yourself, “So what?” (in other words, assess the impact) and “Who cares?” (in other words, assess the relevance).

Once you’ve answered these questions, challenge your own answers by asking yourself the questions again. And again. And again.

Dig down into your ‘information mine’ of details, scrutinise each possible point carefully and objectively, and sift out everything that is not new, relevant or impactful. This will help you avoid creating a potentially superficial or weak message that doesn’t benefit anyone. When you dig diligently, you will eventually reach the nugget that lies beneath the surface, and voilà! Your shiny, new, strong key message will surface.

If you’re uncertain how to create a strong key message, or if you want to sift information in the most effective and efficient way, drop me an email or connect with me and I’ll help you unearth the most valuable elements for achieving buy-in to your suggestions.