Embrace talking points as a springboard

by | Feb 3, 2014 | Blog | 2 comments

Talking points deserve some respect, not ridicule or scorn—at least in organizations.

Why the defense of talking points?

Last month in the Bay Area, the media and neighborhood groups criticized Google for issuing talking points to employees about its private bus service. It transports employees from their San Francisco neighborhoods to work at Googleplex, the company’s headquarters in Mountain View. (For details, see Leaked memo reveals talking points for Google bus riders.)

Regardless of what anyone thinks about this transportation practice, you can’t blame talking points for Google’s PR troubles. (Note you’ve entered a political-free zone as this blog is about organizational practices, not political procedures.)

Talking points have value. For example, they require us to synthesize our goals, plans and actions into headlines. (You can also say “sound bites,” which has a negative connotation for many, but shouldn’t. For my love letter to sound bites, see 10 tips for sound bites with substance.)

By boiling down detailed data into the essence, we are better able to:

  • Relay key points quickly and consistently.  
  • Stay  focused on what’s important.
  • Remember our priorities.

If you still disagree with this, blame your brain. Our attention span is shorter than we’d like to think. Our prefrontal cortex—also known as the brain’s executive function—tires easily.

Rather than fight nature, we should acknowledge the situation and communicate in a succinct, specific and memorable manner.

That’s not to say we should dumb down our communication. Or, stifle others’ voices.

On the contrary.

Instead, we should view talking points as a springboard to richer, more robust conversations that include diverse voices and encourages question-asking and dissent.

Furthermore, talking  points are just one tool to support goals, plans and actions.

To make sure your talking points stay relevant, forget the jargon.  Use clear, simple language.

Also consider these three actions:

  1. Regularly test the assumptions you made when preparing your initial talking points to make sure they’re still pertinent. One of your assumptions should be that your talking points will need to change over time.
  2. When you refresh your talking points, be clear about what’s changed, what’s stayed the same and what’s obsolete.
  3. Besides making  talking points easily accessible, explain how to use them.

You don’t want people mindlessly following talking points. They are not a script, but a guide.

What’s your stance on talking points?


  1. Meredith Eisenberg

    In my former career as a Public Information Officer, I relied on talking points daily to help me coach employees to talk to the public and the press effectively. I found that giving people a guide helped reduce the stress of not knowing what to say (and feeling like there might be undesirable consequences if they said the wrong thing).

    Giving people guidelines is a much better solution than banning employees from talking to the press (which always gives the impression that something is being hidden) or having them “make things up” when they don’t know the full story and are just trying to help.

  2. Michael

    Talking points are vital. I often call them “key messages” when working with clients, but they’re the same thing: a brief, succinct, clear and compelling way to convey the essence of what you do and why. I start with a set of talking points / key messages whenever I’m planning to write an article, news release, web content, annual report message,etc. It’s amazing how easy it is to write the body copy when you have the key messages at your fingertips. Thanks for the reminder, Liz, and for the added science angle re: how our brains receive info. (Guess that point was in your talking points all along.)

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