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How To Say The Right Thing

Communications has been my entire career, and much of that career has been spent writing messages for someone else to say. At the time, I never knew how to saw the right thing.

It’s so easy (tempting?) to just open your mouth and say the first thing that comes out. But as we all know, once you say something, you can’t take it back.

So, here is the best list of criteria I’ve ever found (and admittedly, added to) to decide how to say the right thing.

The first six are mandatory, the last three are optional.

Make your messages:

  • Compelling
  • Relevant
  • Credible
  • Rational and emotional
  • Defensible
  • Prioritised
  • Language appropriate

And, if necessary:

  • Direct
  • Differentiating
  • Sustainable

How To Say The Right Thing, in Detail

Do not feel like you need everything to check every box. As with all business knowledge, put your messages in context.

Like information, messages without context are useless.

Side note:  Great article here from Forbes magazine, especially if you’re into Design Thinking or CX/UX design:  Data is Worthless without Context.

Ask yourself, are my messages …

Compelling? – You should tell the audience what you want them to:

  • Do (or how to behave)
  • Think (what you’re saying is not optional)
  • Consider (what you’re saying may be optional)

Relevant? – You should speak to the audience’s point-of-view, not yours

More so, do not speak as the organisation which is passive and (oftentimes) insulting

Credible? – Your messages are believable, honest, genuine, authentic

Rational and Emotional? – You are balancing facts with feelings.  As Aristotle taught us, all coherent arguments are both.

Defensible? – The messages, evidence and ideas will stand up in a court of law

Prioritised? – You’ve put the most important information first

Harold Burson once told me that when you’re talking to someone, it’s like being in an elevator or lift with your audience. Yes, it’s the proverbial elevator pitch, but he added one key aspect most forget or don’t know. The elevator pitch suggests you’re going from the bottom to top floor, but what happens if the other party gets out early? Did you have your messages in priority order?

In other words, do not put your main message at the end!

Language Appropriate? – You have used words and phrases which are appropriate to the audience.

Also, avoid speaking in metaphors, especially if your language isn’t the first language of your audience. If the audience doesn’t know English for example, “I’m going to take you on a journey” could confuse them.

The previous seven are strongly suggested. The three below are optional, depending upon the audience, situation and cujlture.

Direct? – It’s always good to be clear and direct, but at the same time, be careful of being direct in cultures or situations where being direct is not appropriate. 

Differentiating? – You want your messages to be attached to you, the department, the organisation. If there’s any competition – external or internal – make your messages specific.

A simple tip: If you replaced your organisation’s name (or similar) with your competition, will your messages still work?

Sustainable? – This criteria is only necessary if your messages last forever. If your messages are only good for the quarter, or until another round of (different/nuanced) messages are needed, don’t worry so much if your messages last. At the same time, if your messages will change, best to let your audience know that so you don’t look like you’re unable to make a decision and stick to it.

Any other criteria you’ve used to make sure your messages are right?  Please add your comments and thoughts below.Credible

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How To Say The Right Thing