What's in a message?

Each carries the weight of your purpose, of your intention, of the action or belief you want your audience to embrace. To be effective, messages must be clear and strong, leaving no doubt in the minds of your audience of your stance and advocacy for it.

Make every message matter. Design each to be persuasive, to further the purpose of the communication, to move your audience toward accepting your desired outcome.

How? By employing a set of three tactics, all of them specific decisions and actions you can take to clarify and emphasize messages. Using them will help you construct effective messages.


At ECG, we often recommend that speakers limit the number of major messages they present to three—the most important ones. Listeners have difficulty holding more than that in their minds at one time, and as a speaker you want them to remember what you have said. If you bombard an audience with messages, its members are likely to lose most of them.

In a complex, long presentation, apply the rule of three to each of the major divisions in your presentation.

Don't provide too much; include only the most important and most persuasive messages. Leave the less significant ones for follow-up, Q&A, or a subsequent presentation.


Often when we're planning a presentation, our initial brainstorming produces an abundance of messages, all related to our topic somehow and all dear to us in some way. Be choosy; select the most relevant, the most persuasive, the most convincing.

Every message must connect directly and securely to what you aim to achieve - to your purpose. If it doesn't, leave it out.

Irrelevant side notes or observations, no matter how interesting, may derail the presentation by distracting listeners from your point. Oversharing can be just as dangerous in a presentation as in a Q&A session, so stay focused and precise.


Another difficulty that may occur is that messages are unfocused, unnecessarily broad, or too generally applicable. Statements of fact or raw data give listeners only a vague idea of where you are going in your presentation.

Messages must have a point. They must go beyond simple fact or information. They must provide context or conclusions must be drawn from that data. Messages deliver a perspective, a determination, a point of view from which audiences can begin to understand the purpose of your presentation.

Some headlines and article titles function as messages. Here are some that do just that:

  • Review finds better endodontic surgery outcomes with microscope use
  • Daylight saving time has its dangerous side
  • Dr. Frank Jobe, a true game-changer, should be in Hall of Fame

Each presents an essential point, a point that will be explained and supported in the material that follows it. Each strongly supports a purpose—to persuade an audience that one type of surgery has better results when a microscope is used, that daylight saving time causes harm, that a particular person should be honored.

For strong and effective content, mind your messages—number, purpose, and point.