A message is a statement or set of statements that describes your work and why it is important. It should be written in language that is easily understood by a wide range of people. Developing a clear message involves taking your complex research or project and pulling out the one or two key points you want people to know and remember. Imagine you’re talking to your next door neighbor or perhaps your Aunt Martha about your work. How can you describe your efforts briefly, and in an easy to understand and compelling way?
- Start by thinking big picture. Why is your work important? Who does it affect and how? The more people, the more far-reaching the better.
- Next, what is your work and what are its benefits? Without diving into the details, what are the broad basics about what you are actually doing? You can likely write a grant proposal about it, but how would you say it in a sentence?
- What do you hope others (or perhaps the audience you are talking to) will do? What is the call to action?
- What is the most compelling evidence you have to back up your message. Is it a single, scintillating data point or factoid? Is it a patient anecdote or story that perfectly captures the emotional seriousness of the issue? This evidence may change depending on your audience, but you will want to have these at the ready.
- Can you make it memorable? Once you have your message described in clear, concise language, see if you can make it sing. Can you use rhyme, rhythm, contrast, metaphor, or other rhetorical/poetic devices to help make your message stick?
Looking for more help? Here are a few tools to help you create effective messages:
The Heath Brothers, authors of Made to Stick and Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard, two top-selling books that offer best practices to develop sticky messages and successful ways to get your ideas across, have a variety of free resources available on their Web site. Note: Free registration is required to download these resources.
Message What You Preach (Webinar recording) You've done the research, now it's time to tell people about it. Are you sure you're sending the message you want via your presentations, posters, and media interviews? This webinar, recorded in January 2010, focuses on how to frame your message effectively and make it truly memorable or "sticky."
Framing Public Issues Toolkit and the Five-Minute Refresher Course in Framing, both from the Frameworks Institute, are excellent resources on framing concepts and messaging.
SmartMeme, an organization dedicated to developing and using story-based strategies to change the frames on serious social issues, has numerous resources available (both no-cost and donation requested) for nonprofits and social change organizations.
For more tips and resources on messaging, including adapting your message, applying your message, creating message frameworks and more, visit Bandwidth’s Messages section.
The Hartford Online Communications Resource depends on the active participation of the foundation’s grantees. If you have tips on talking about your work with decision-makers at your institution/organization, please let us know, so we can share it on the site and make it available to the rest of the Hartford network.
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