Any public forum — be it in print, on the internet, on the air, or in person — is an opportunity to convey the message you want to convey.
Why waste it?
And, yet, I see my professional cohorts ramble.
Perhaps they equate speaking off-the-cuff with charming spontaneity or beguiling creativity. Hell, I don’t know.
To me, it looks and sounds like blathering.
So, a big part of media training and coaching on public speaking consists of a little thing called a talking point.
What’s a talking point?
It’s a concept. Simple as that.
If you can focus on a few main ideas when you speak, ideas that further your goals, you’re on the road to being effective and memorable . . . for the right reasons.
Talking points can be a word or two that cue you. They can be sound bites. You can write full sentences if you want. The trick is to single out three to five concepts that you really want listeners (and readers) to understand.
How do you develop talking points?
First, figure out what messages you feel are the most important for you.
A person who does this quite effectively is Jan Burke. One of her main points when she talks to the media, posts on listservs, and speaks in public is that crime labs are dreadfully under-funded and under-equipped. She’s determined to inform people about the realities of this situation through the Crime Lab Project.
Jan’s on point all the time, yet never sounds rehearsed, and her passionate concern elevates public awareness. She also is raising her own visibility while doing something tremendously admirable.
We have other excellent examples in our literary community. Whether you agree with them or not, notice how well they’ve honed their points.
Carl Hiaasen is angry about land mismanagement and environmental abuse in Florida.
Tony Hillerman believes that the Navajo culture is important for all of us to know.
Janet Evanovich wants people to laugh.
Otto Penzler never misses a chance to dis cozies.
These people know what they want to say about a cause, their writing, or a pet peeve . . . and they say it with remarkable consistency. Do you think this is simply by chance?
Right now, think of three points that mean something to you, that you’d like people to know if you’re interviewed or if you speak publicly. Focus on ideas that you want an audience to remember. These points can be profound or light, serious or humorous. It doesn’t matter to me. They should matter to you.
Go on. Write them down.
See? That wasn’t too difficult, was it?
But, I can’t just come up with three.
Yeah, I know. It’s not easy to limit yourself. But the beauty of talking points is that you can tailor them for any situation.
What I recommend to clients is to identify ten or more major concepts, then focus on three to five points in any talk or interview depending on context and time.
The reason to restrict the number you actively use is that most audiences have Teflon (r) minds. If you mention more than a few concepts, they won’t remember any of them.
Do I have to stick to my talking points?
It depends. Politicians cling to their talking points so closely that they can sound like automatons. So, learn from their mistaken rigidity.
Talking points enable you to
1. Keep focused so that you don’t run too far astray of what you want to say. (They’ll prevent you from getting too distracted, going off on irrelevant tangents, and wasting your public communications opportunities.)
2. Spring into other related topics, when appropriate.
3. Control the interview so that you answer the questions you want to answer rather than submitting to someone else’s agenda. (This is especially helpful when you’re being interviewed by someone who hasn’t read your work or who dislikes it.)
4. Sound like you’re prepared without appearing stilted or nervous.
Believe me, the majority of public relations is common sense. Talking points, a.k.a. preparation, are the bedrock of successful public communication.
You’d be a fool not to take the time to develop and use them.
Next Saturday, Sept. 30, Evil Elaine won’t be able to post her normal ON THE BUBBLE. In her place, I’ve asked Amanda Sutton, the superb publicist at the University of New Mexico Press, to write about what she wishes authors knew. It should be fascinating.