Talking points are like a cheat sheet for anyone communicating on behalf of a business, an organization, a politician, or even themselves. They provide a quick and easy way of staying on track, not wandering off topic, and making sure communications are consistent across the group being represented.
They often are used as seed material for letters, press releases, speeches, debates, and more. Talking points are internal communications and not shared with intended audiences.
What to Include
In some ways, talking points are similar to an outline, but they are not as dense. Communications officials using them for speeches, debates, or live interviews need to be able to reference them quickly. Talking points designed to guide written communications such as press releases may be a bit more detailed.
The broadest points typically will be topics that need to be addressed. For example, someone being interviewed on television might want to be sure to address two or three topics of specific importance to the organization he or she represents. The talking points serve as a reminder to steer the conversation to those topics as much as possible. While someone speaking on behalf of an organization should be able to speak about the listed topics intelligently and thoroughly, the talking points might also include details or statistics that are not as easily memorized.
For anyone on camera or speaking to a live audience, talking points should be no longer than one page, making them easily and quickly referenced. They might even fit on something no larger than an index card.
Effective Talking Points
When writing your talking points, it's important to keep in mind a few key details that will help you to do the best job possible preparing yourself or others to communicate your message:
- Prioritize: The one thing, above all else, you want your audience to take away from your message needs to be your top priority and the top thing listed on your talking points. From there, prioritize, in order, what you want to address, but understand that the quality of your message typically is more important than the number of points being addressed. So you may not get to everything noted on your talking points, but if you've addressed your top priority thoroughly and also touched on two or three other priorities, that can be considered successful. And your audience is more likely to remember one or two thoroughly covered points than a dozen topics glossed over.
- Prepare: Talking points are useful only when those using them already know the details of the message that needs to be conveyed. Before even getting to the stage of writing talking points, be sure you and others who will be communicating the message are thoroughly educated on the details. The talking points are there to serve as a reminder and to highlight some specific details that may need to be recited. Nobody should be relying on talking points for breadth and depth.
- Pre-empt: Especially in interviews or debates when those doing the talking will be questioned about their message, it's important to anticipate what those questions will be. For example, it presenting statistics or other data and you expect yourself or the speaker you're preparing to be questioned about the validity of your source, be prepared to defend your source and include a few words in the talking points to serve as a reminder.
- Focus on facts: Professional communicators should know how to be engaging without talking points, but for a message to be memorable and effective, it needs substance—and that means facts. Know what facts you want to share with your audience, and be prepared to explain to your audience how those facts impact them. Your talking points are there to remind you of the facts you need to be sharing.
- Be direct: Even if your message is a negative one, get straight to the point, and own what you are saying. If it is bad news that you are sharing, your talking points also should include reminders about how you are responding to the negative situation and working to make it better. If you are honest about the bad news and share a plan for addressing it, your audience is more likely to see you as a problem solver. If you beat around the bush or try to sugarcoat the situation, your audience is more likely to see you as untrustworthy.
What to Avoid
Just as there are things talking points should include, there also are things talking points should steer clear of:
- Length: You're not writing a speech. If you need to rely on your talking points to help formulate sentences and paragraphs, you're not prepared enough to even be writing talking points yet. Those using the talking points simply need to be able to glance at the sheet or card quickly to remind themselves of topics to address or of details facts to cite.
- Full sentences: Each point needs to be no more than a word or a short phrase—just enough to spark the memory of the speaker. If it's a number or other piece of data, no more than the actual figure and a one- or two-word label for that data should be included.
- Excessive bolding, underlining, use of italics, etc.: For someone just glancing at a page quickly, these attempts to highlight information are nothing but noise and often distracting. If you do a good job of prioritizing and keeping things brief and simple, there should be no need to add much in the way of additional highlighting.