One essential element of all communications challenges is to craft the best possible headline message for each specific situation you face.
This is because successful communication involves so much more than showering your audience with loads of information.
It requires an overarching headline message to underpin the thrust of what you say – all-the-more vital in post-lockdown times where so much is unfreezing and shifting around us.
So in all communication-boosting training sessions, helping participants work out their best headline message is something that happens very near the start.
The right headline message is required whether you’re preparing a new presentation with your latest post-lockdown offerings, or getting ready for a string of media interviews, or planning for a Question & Answer session where those dreaded blowtorch-on-the-belly questions can lurk.
And you also need to prepare other sub-messages to run under the umbrella of your headline message.
Ideally, your pre-determined messages will neatly underpin all your vital interactions with clients, prospects, suppliers, officials, journalists, members of the public and people on your own team.
When you have the most appropriate headline message and sub-messages in place, it’s so much easier to put together everything else you need for your presentation – whether for an audience that’s online, face-to-face or some of each.
And having the right messages also makes it easier to prepare for giving great answers to any tough questions – during and after your presentation or during a media interview.
THE QUALITIES OF AN EFFECTIVE MESSAGE
Whenever possible, it’s good to write your headline message in a positive form.
There can be a time for negative messages, but in most cases it’s positive messages that you’ll require and which your audience members will crave.
A positive message is typically more straight-forward than a negative one – and is easier for your listeners to digest.
It’s ideal if you can sum up your headline message in a single sentence – or in two short sentences at most.
Remember that your headline message is not a slogan, so it doesn’t have to be especially snappy.
However, it does need to be concise.
And it’s all the better when it’s simple enough to be easily understood by intelligent 12-year-olds.
THE RIGHT MESSAGE WILL BE SPOTTED – EVEN IF YOU DON’T ACTUALLY SAY IT
Your headline message may or may not be explicitly stated in your presentation.
And it doesn’t have to be overtly included amongst the words of your great answers.
But what’s important is that – whether you explicitly utter your message or not – it needs to come across amidst your communication efforts in a way that’s clear, powerful and memorable.
So if your audience members were surveyed afterwards about what they thought your headline message was, when you’ve communicated effectively they would be able to accurately sum it up themselves.
If your message is obvious without being stated, then even someone who vehemently disagreed with the thrust of it should be able to tell you what the message is when you’ve finished.
IDENTIFY THE BEST MESSAGE FOR YOUR POST-LOCKDOWN AUDIENCES
At a time when – thanks to vaccines – parts of the world are starting to emerge from the Coronavirus troubles of the past 16 months, it’s probable that your latest business offerings are at least a bit different from what they used to be.
If your organisation has a mix of new offerings – and/or new ways of delivering them – naturally there’ll be plusses and minuses for your existing and potential new customers.
Those considering doing business with you will need to know both the positives and negatives about what your organisation can and can’t now provide.
My overall advice – to be adjusted to your specific situation – is that you focus your headline message about your offerings on what you CAN DO, rather than what you can’t do.
Over the past year of Coronavirus lockdowns, procedures and instructions everyone is used to being told a lot of things that they can’t do or shouldn’t do.
As many parts of the world step blinking into exciting fresh post-lockdown possibilities, most people will be focused on what they can do.
For example, suppose you’re in the catering trade and Coronavirus supply chain issues meant you had to reduce the range of your enticing menu offerings.
But let’s presume that, at the same time, you began a new takeaway service to try to keep your sales high.
And let’s suppose that amidst the return to the new normal, you still have to limit your menu offerings.
But simultaneously you expand your takeaway service to provide home deliveries.
For the benefit of your customers, my suggestion would be to focus on telling them what you can offer, not what you can’t.
So there’s a strong case for making your headline message something like: “Our popular new takeaway service is expanding – and bringing our tasty menu choices to your door.”
A POSITIVE MESSAGE AMIDST TRAVEL CHAOS
Here’s a somewhat surprising real-life example of clear positive messaging that’s emerged this week.
It’s come from a tourism company as it struggles to deal with the challenging new system for international travel that’s about to be introduced by the United Kingdom.
Under the system – for all sorts of Corona-related reasons – the countries where you will soon be able to travel remains shrouded in Covid-19 uncertainty and unpredictability.
The big reveal to show where people in the UK might be able to go for a summer holiday is planned for 17 May.
This is when the British Government says that – based on the latest data – it will announce which holiday destinations get the green light… and which ones will face an amber or red light, depending on how corona-safe the scientists and officials deem each location to be.
This is how the Express newspaper pictorially envisages it for its readers:
But this is how the more critical travel website, Flight Centre, is portraying the traffic light travel system:
It’s fair to assume the Flight Centre website is trying to send a negative message to warn about what it sees as the complex and confusing nature of the traffic light travel system.
Whichever of the two images you find more appropriate, the impending traffic light travel system currently makes it hard for tourism companies to work out what destinations they can and cannot currently recommend to their prospective customers.
But amidst the volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity of the traffic light travel system, one organisation that’s getting its headline message across is the holiday company, Thomas Cook.
It’s a company whose approach to communications has not always been impressive – such as when it responded badly at an emotional level after two children sadly died during a Thomas Cook holiday in Greece.
If you need a reminder of how ineptly Thomas Cook has performed on that occasion, check out the Doddblog from May 2015 at:
But six years on, with a new improved Chief Executive Officer, Thomas Cook is doing better.
Amidst the confusion of where British holiday-makers may be able to go this northern summer, CEO Alan French has demonstrated an essentially positive messaging approach.
Questioned about travel prospects on BBC’s Today radio programme, Mr French put the focus on some Mediterranean countries which he declared were preparing well for the return of overseas visitors.
“When the holidays proper start at the end of June, we are expecting most of the countries that the UK goes on holiday to – Europe particularly – to be open,” he told the programme.
“We are expecting Portugal, Spain, Greece, Croatia and so forth to be open. It would be nice if Turkey was open.
“When we look at what is going on in those countries, both in terms of infection rates and how they are preparing for holidaymakers, I think there is great progress being made.”
What I admire about Mr French’s can-do messaging approach is that he concentrated on the destinations where Thomas Cook’s prospects for taking its customers are currently are looking relatively promising.
So without making irresponsible promises, his headline message focussed on what may well prove possible travel-wise.
This was better than getting bogged down with the multitude of destinations which may prove to be a lot more difficult.
With effective message-crafting – and with careful planning, preparation and practice – you can do the same.
And so, hopefully, can I – as I seek to demonstrate next…
THE POSITIVE COMMUNICATIONS-BOOSTING MESSAGE
So are you wondering what are the prospects for future Michael Dodd Communications’ face-to-face training sessions – and communications-boosting keynote addresses at your forthcoming conference?
The good news – fuelled by the UK vaccination programme of which I’m a happy beneficiary – is that this is the headline message:
“Whenever you determine that face-to-face interactions are safe to proceed on your premises, advance bookings for communications-boosting training sessions and conference keynotes can be made now.
“The fall-back is that if future Corona circumstances prevent any booked face-to-face speaking or training taking place, it can be delivered online in the same timeslots.”
It’s a case of either:
- The show must go on
2. The show must go online!
So if your own or your team’s communications need enhancing – in training sessions or at your next conference – reply to this e-zine to set up a call to discuss your requirements.
All the communication-boosting lights are green!