Preparing your message

Last week I had a 20-minute presentation I prepared for 24 senior leaders in our organization to obtain feedback and buy-in for a succession planning initiative. As it happened, their meeting was running behind and the chairperson informed me that I now had 8-1/2 minutes to get my message across.

Luckily, knowing my audience, I did not have a long powerpoint, but a 3-page handout and a few talking points that I had to deliver. My short message generated lots of questions and resulted in agreement for moving forward. Whew!

Not all my presentations have gone that well, but I’ve learned over time to focus more on tailoring my message for a specific audience. And with this particular presentation, I was focused on two things: what I wanted to achieve through succession planning and what I needed senior leaders to do as a result of our discussion.

The Communications Leadership Council* reinforces and expands upon this approach,  suggesting that when preparing executive communications, there are three important questions you should ask.

First think about connecting your message to the business objective, by asking yourself:

1) What are you trying to achieve and why is it so important?

Next, to enable audience action, think about:

2) What do you want the audience to do as a result of the communication?

Lastly, to provoke dialogue, ask:

3) What question do you want the audience to ask themselves after the communication?

It’s a simple triage process, but narrowing down your message to these key points can be a challenge. When you are passionate about an initiative or effort, it’s so tempting to include lots of detailed information.

When you’ve had to prepare a brief presentation that requires action on the audience’s part, what has worked best for you?

Anita Rios

*For information on the Communications Leadership Council, see:


3 responses to “Preparing your message

  1. Michael Van Keulen

    Those are great suggestions! I am also big proponent of telegraphing your speech for the audience in terms of expectations and clarity of purpose. Setting the stage early for what you plan to accomplish in your presentation can also help to manage expectations among the audience members.


  2. Michelle Malott

    As a person who tends to be eager to include all details, and then sometimes feeling like I lose the point of the message among the details, I found today’s post to be helpful. Thanks!


  3. I’m so glad it helped, Michelle! When I think about getting the point of the message across to executive audiences in particular, it helps to have one or two provocative details that exemplify the point I want to make. I agree it’s hard to carve out all the details, but most times it’s necessary.


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