Most organizations create the party line in the form of talking points. Talking points might be about the organization generally or about a specific piece of news. They typically are handed down from the top for “messengers” to deliver. These messengers, whether they are managers communicating to an internal audience or spokespeople facing an external audience, are expected to deliver the party line. It’s an age-old practice – but with varying results.
The intention behind talking points is solid, which is to help an organization present a unified front, deliver a consistent message, and be sure that everyone is singing from the same song book, so to speak. However, talking points are more often than not other people’s words. And other people’s words can be problematic – hence, the varying results.
The problem with other people’s words is that it’s just not realistic to expect people to deliver them the way they were written. Some real-life challenges with talking points are as follows (see if any of these sound familiar!):
- They are often long, wordy documents – even when they’re broken up into bullet points or paragraphs – that are written more for a reader to read than for a speaker to speak. This makes them difficult for people to digest and actually use.
- Most spokespeople aren’t sure what they’re supposed to do with talking points – memorize or paraphrase? And there’s typically no guidance provided.
- Pre-scripted talking points often feel stilted or inauthentic to the person who is supposed to deliver them. They are other people’s words, and so the messengers read them and think, “but this doesn’t sound like me, I would never say this.”
- In the end, a lot of people who are supposed to be messengers or spokespeople simply avoid and then ignore talking points – which, of course, defeats the original purpose of trying to get everyone on the same page.
So, what can be done to help protect and promote the party line?
Well, if you’re responsible for creating and distributing talking points, here are some tips:
- Give guidance to your troops, let them know how closely to the script they need to stay and what they can and cannot paraphrase.
- Give them permission to use their own words – with the caveat that, if there are some critical words or phrases within the talking points, those are “must-air” words.
- Be realistic and keep the talking points document as brief and succinct as possible.
If you have to deliver talking points, here are some tips for you:
- Go through the document a few times and then put it away and practice making as many of the points as you can. Test yourself to see how well you at least covered the spirit of the talking points, if not the words.
- Highlight the words and phrases that mean the most to you and that you do not want to leave out, and then rehearse yourself through a version that hits on those.
- Ask, if it hasn’t been granted already, for permission to paraphrase, making the case that you will do a better – more authentic and credible – job of delivering the party line if you can hit the points you’re most passionate about in a way that works for you.
A little effort – and a little give – from both sides will be worth it, good luck!