Getting your point across in an interview or controversy takes more than talking louder. It requires disciplined repetition and relentless consistency.
As an issue manager or a crisis spokesperson, you cannot expect people to be sitting on the edge of their seat waiting to hear your key message. Disciplined repetition increases the odds that your key message will actually be heard and remembered.
Relentless consistency helps to guard against message migration, which is what can happen when a message is shared from person to person like in the game called Telephone.
My former boss, Ron Wyden, insisted on repeating his key message at least three times in a press interview, speech or question-and-session session. He contended, with some empirical evidence to back him up, that if you make your point once, only some people will get it. When you mention it a second time, the point gets wider notice because it sounds familiar. On the third mention, most people will have absorbed the point – and many will have stored it away. Alert reporters will get the clear signal this is what the speaker wants to get across.
This is not a reflection on the collective intelligence of audiences or reporters. It is a fact that we retain less of what we hear than what we see. Disciplined repetition recognizes this human fact.
The discipline to repeat key messages involves overcoming the natural sense that you are belaboring your point. You are belaboring your point on purpose so it stands out and sticks.
Disciplined repetition also involves practicing how to say the same thing more than once without seeming to have a script. This is where sound bites play an important role in forming the core of a message that can wrapped up in various ways. Here’s an example:
The Federal Communication Commission’s decision to eliminate net neutrality will mean telecommunication companies can put big guys in the fast lane and shove little guys into the slow lane.
Regardless what the FCC or telecommunications companies say, ending net neutrality may result in different users forced onto different and sometimes slower lanes of the internet.
If net neutrality hadn’t existed, a startup like YouTube may never have been able to compete financially with Google for access to the fast lane of the internet.
Relentless consistency reinforces key messages and avoids confusing audiences. Too much information can bog down audience comprehension, burying a key message under a heap of facts and extraneous material. The desire to share “all the facts” or provide “useful context” only succeeds in overloading your audience and blurring what you really want them to remember.
Sticking to your message over multiple interviews or briefings keeps your message prominent and is a cue of what you view as most important to know. It also reduces the chance that a reporter or stakeholder will leave the room thinking one of your side points was your main point.
The best example of this was my client who, with the best of intentions, refused to stick with a key message, choosing instead to follow the lead – and sometimes take the bait – of reporters. The result were muddy interviews that often didn’t even wind up in the final stories, especially for TV news.
One of the best aids for relentless consistency is a great visual image – an illustration, map or chart. Visual images have more impact than words alone because people see them as you are talking. If the images are well conceived and well designed to reinforce your key message, your chances of making a clear impression are amplified.
You can count the number of times in this blog I used disciplined repetition and relentless consistency to see preaching in practice.