The term “talking points” gets a bum rap. Often, using talking points is perceived as encouraging “robot-speak” or as a shady technique for dodging tough questions. We can probably blame this bad press on politics (which seems like an especially fashionable thing to do these days).
But rather than running away from talking points altogether, can we instead acknowledge that there are better and worse ways to use them? Yes, some of those ways get (rightly) labeled as lazy, stale, or simply uninformative. Others are absolutely essential for strong communications.
The reality is that we all use talking points in our daily lives. A couple quick examples come to mind: if you have a meeting with your boss, you go in with an idea of the key points you want to express; if you go out to dinner with friends, you generally know what you’ll talk about when they ask, “what’s new?” Whenever we organize our thoughts, whether we realize it or not, we are using talking points.
In IR, we see talking points as an essential tool in any CEOs toolkit. And coming up with these compact bundles of key information is really an art and a science. So let’s talk about what you can expect if you enlist the help of an IR expert to organize your remarks.
What are talking points? Why do they work?
First, let’s dig deeper into the concept of talking points:
1. Talking points are one way of organizing and remembering the main points of a discussion, argument, policy, investment case, etc. Importantly, they can also act as guardrails—defining what you are not talking about can be as important as defining what you are discussing. For example, during a meeting with investors you likely want to stick close to your investment thesis—this is not the time to discuss non-public strategy deliberations.
Raising information that falls outside of your guardrails, i.e., the main objectives of the meeting, press conference, or conference call, not only could confuse your audience, but it also might raise questions that you are not prepared to answer. There’s nothing worse for a CEO than finding herself in the weeds, panicking, and answering tough questions off-the-cuff. Talking points help avoid this nightmare situation.
2. Talking points are intended to be the broad strokes of a message. By knowing these broad strokes, you can fill in the rest of the picture with confidence. Here are a few good suggestions for going deeper too. Without an outline, additional details—stories—can just sound like disconnected messages. Have you ever had a friend tell a long rambling story? That’s indicative of a lack of talking points.
Talking points give presenters and the audience something to go back to. While it’s great for the report or presentation to be conversational, within those guardrails we talked about of course, the most compelling communications also have a clear organizational structure. Try to stick to three main themes that tie everything together.
3. Along those same lines—talking points allow you to get to the point quickly. For example, many of the investors I’ve spoken with have ZERO patience for long-winded answers. Investors are busy people, they want you to cut to the chase. Get to the point, give your support for the point, and move on.
It can be disheartening when we stop to consider how much the Internet has influenced us to have short attention spans. (Believe me! Those of us in communications fields are constantly shaking our heads at this trend.) But you aren’t going to stem the tide during this one meeting. It’s best to go with the flow here and give investors short, sweet points they can use.
The big picture: talking points enable better conversation. With your key messages top of mind, you can have a better discussion because you know the extent of your message/topic and you can easily transition between “color commentary” and specific data to be communicated
What talking points aren’t.
Talking points are not meant to be taken as the full message and recited verbatim (although there’s usually someone who does this every week on the Sunday morning talk shows). This behavior:
- (a) sends the message that the speaker has no idea what they are talking about and can’t articulate an original thought;
- (b) makes the message sound completely inauthentic to the listener; and
- (c) doesn’t encourage engaging conversation… it’s just a one way spewing of information. And that’s just boring.
The right IR expert will coach you on how to expand upon the talking points in ways that feel authentic to you. Ideally, CEOs and any other leadership tasked with talking to the public will be involved throughout the process of distilling information down into crucial talking points.
Surely, we communications experts and those whom we advise can do better than the talking heads trying to keep up with the 24/7 news cycle. Investors deserve better when they are making educated decisions about where to add value to the market.
Finding the best talking points to keep your investors informed and give you the scaffolding to build your complete message is at least as much art as it is science. At Audacia we love to organize and package thoughts into authentic messages that resonate. If you love to talk about all things corporate communications, you’ve come to the right place. Let’s talk!
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