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What Are Your Talking Points?

What Are Your Talking Points?
What Are Your Talking Points?

    When I started doing my own research after completing my graduate coursework, I was advised by a mentor to have three descriptions of my work ready to recite at a moment’s notice: a three-minute overview, a 12-minute presentation, and a half-hour discussion. The three-minute version is what you tell someone when you’re sharing an elevator at an academic conference; the 12-minute version is suitable for giving a conference presentation; and the half-hour version is what you pull out when you’re sitting down for an interview with a potential funder or getting permission from a local community to do research there.

    Businesspeople face similar kinds of situations, and are often told to have similarly-timed versions of their presentation at hand for different contexts — the “elevator pitch” of a few minutes, the short PowerPoint presentation, and the longer version for an interview with funders or others. But how do you talk about a project you’re passionate about in only a couple of minutes — without leaving out anything important? And if you can do that, how can you fill out a half-hour or more on the same material without running out of steam?

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    The trick is talking points. While we’re accustomed to think about talking points in the context of political campaigns, the idea is applicable to any project where you need to be persuasive and compelling. Having a set of clear, easily-remembered, and well-supported talking points means you always have an outline to work from, so you don’t leave anything out — and so you can hang as much, or as little, as necessary from that outline to fill out whatever time is allotted.

    In the current (October 2007) issue of Writing that Works, a newsletter for business writers, speechwriting coach Joan Detz suggests that you have three (no more, no less) talking points for any given project. Two is too thin and unsubstantial, and four and higher is more than anyone can easily grasp. Three points is a comfortable amount to comprehend and because we tend to remember things easily when they come in threes, more memorable than a higher number of points.

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    Sitting down and working out talking points offers an opportunity to really dig into your project and what you hope to accomplish with it. Once you have three simple statements of what you’re project is all about, you can start building up supporting material directly aimed at those points. Research results, statistics, current events, and other material you come across can be assessed for its value in explaining or illustrating your talking points. Keep a file — either physically in a folder or virtually in a word processing document — and add material under the relevant talking point.

    In a three-minute elevator pitch, you may only have time to list your talking points, and maybe add an item or two for clarification. When it comes time to make a formal presentation, open your file and pull out enough material to fill the allotted time. The idea is not to add more talking points but to explain and expand the same talking points more depending on how much time you have. This means you’re not muddying the waters by adding too many key issues or diluting the impact of your talking points; instead, more time allows you to be more persuasive, to build a stronger case.

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    For example, let’s say I want to develop an online learning strategy for introductory classes at my university. To get a project like that moving, I need to get funding, either from the university or an outside party, and I need to get the university to provide technological resources and other support — which means I need to convince several different parties that the project is worthwhile. I might have the following talking points:

    • Students are comfortable using online resources and enjoy using them.
    • Social networking is the wave of the future and gaining competence now will better prepare them for life after graduation.
    • Creating an online learning environment will allow students to pull together resources from across the Internet.

    I should note that I’m not actually doing this project, so maybe those aren’t the best talking points. But they’re fine for illustration here.

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    Now, if I find myself standing on line in the dining commons with a provost or dean, I might casually mention my project and list the talking points above more or less as they appear here. If my line-mate is interested and asks me to come by her office for 15 minutes next week and discuss it further, I could open up my file of supporting material and pick out a few compelling things for each point — say, a recent study of college students’ Internet usage, an editorial from a teaching magazine on using Internet resources in the classroom, and an article from Wired on the use of Facebook in businesses — and talk about that in our meeting. If I were asked to make a longer presentation, I would pull out more supporting material.

    Staying focused on talking points gives your audience, whether one person or a hundred, an instant take-away, and prevents you from getting off-track. Each becomes a kind of mission statement, preventing you from dwelling on the trivial at the expense of the truly important. Like a mission statement, they direct your attention as well, helping you to avoid tangents and wild goose chases. In an organizational setting, talking points are doubly important, for the same reason political campaigners rely on them — they help prevent people from giving conflicting messages to funders, potential supporters, and the press. And, most importantly, knowing your talking points means never being caught out without anything meaningful to say.

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    Last Updated on March 14, 2019

    7 Questions to Ask in a Job Interview That Will Impress the Interviewer

    7 Questions to Ask in a Job Interview That Will Impress the Interviewer

    Recruiters might hold thousands of interviews in their careers and a lot of them are reporting the same thing—that most candidates play it safe with the questions they ask, or have no questions to ask in a job interview at all.

    For job applicants, this approach is crazy! This is a job that you’re going to dedicate a lot of hours to and that might have a huge impact on your future career. Don’t throw away the chance to figure out if the position is perfect for you.

    Here are 7 killer questions to ask in a job interview that will both impress your counterpart and give you some really useful insights into whether this job will be a dream … or a nightmare.

    1. What are some challenges I might come up against this role?

    A lesser candidate might ask, “what does a typical day look like in this role?” While this is a perfectly reasonable question to ask in an interview, focusing on potential challenges takes you much further because it indicates that you already are visualizing yourself in the role.

    It’s impressive because it shows that you are not afraid of challenges, and you are prepared to strategize a game plan upfront to make sure you succeed if you get the job.

    It can also open up a conversation about how you’ve solved problems in the past which can be a reassuring exercise for both you and the hiring manager.

    How it helps you:

    If you ask the interviewer to describe a typical day, you may get a vibrant picture of all the lovely things you’ll get to do in this job and all the lovely people you’ll get to do them with.

    Asking about potential roadblocks means you hear the other side of the story—dysfunctional teams, internal politics, difficult clients, bootstrap budgets and so on. This can help you decide if you’re up for the challenge or whether, for the sake of your sanity, you should respectfully decline the job offer.

    2. What are the qualities of really successful people in this role?

    Employers don’t want to hire someone who goes through the motions; they want to hire someone who will excel.

    Asking this question shows that you care about success, too. How could they not hire you with a dragon-slayer attitude like that?

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    How it helps you:

    Interviewers hire people who are great people to work with, but the definition of “great people” differs from person to person.

    Does this company hire and promote people with a specific attitude, approach, worth ethic or communication style? Are the most successful people in this role strong extroverts who love to talk and socialize when you are studious and reserved? Does the company reward those who work insane hours when you’re happiest in a more relaxed environment?

    If so, then this may not be the right match for you.

    Whatever the answer is, you can decide whether you have what it takes for the manager to be happy with your performance in this role. And if the interviewer has no idea what success looks like for this position, this is a sign to proceed with extreme caution.

    3. From the research I did on your company, I noticed the culture really supports XYZ. Can you tell me more about that element of the culture and how it impacts this job role?

    Of course, you could just ask “what is the culture like here? ” but then you would miss a great opportunity to show that you’ve done your research!

    Interviewers give BIG bonus point to those who read up and pay attention, and you’ve just pointed out that (a) you’re diligent in your research (b) you care about the company culture and (c) you’re committed to finding a great cultural fit.

    How it helps you:

    This question is so useful because it lets you pick an element of the culture that you really care about and that will have the most impact on whether you are happy with the organization.

    For example, if training and development is important to you, then you need to know what’s on offer so you don’t end up in a dead-end job with no learning opportunities.

    Companies often talk a good talk, and their press releases may be full of shiny CSR initiatives and all the headline-grabbing diversity programs they’re putting in place. This is your opportunity to look under the hood and see if the company lives its values on the ground.

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    A company that says it is committed to doing the right thing by customers should not judge success by the number of up-sells an employee makes, for instance. Look for consistency, so you aren’t in for a culture shock after you start.

    4. What is the promotion path for this role, and how would my performance on that path be measured?

    To be clear, you are not asking when you will get promoted. Don’t go there—it’s presumptuous, and it indicates that you think you are better than the role you have applied for.

    A career-minded candidate, on the other hand, usually has a plan that she’s working towards. This question shows you have a great drive toward growth and advancement and an intention to stick with the company beyond your current state.

    How it helps you:

    One word: hierarchy.

    All organizations have levels of work and authority—executives, upper managers, line managers, the workforce, and so on. Understanding the hierarchical structure gives you power, because you can decide if you can work within it and are capable of climbing through its ranks, or whether it will be endlessly frustrating to you.

    In a traditional pyramid hierarchy, for example, the people at the bottom tend to have very little autonomy to make decisions. This gets better as you rise up through the pyramid, but even middle managers have little power to create policy; they are more concerned with enforcing the rules the top leaders make.

    If having a high degree of autonomy and accountability is important to you, you may do better in a flat hierarchy where work teams can design their own way of achieving the corporate goals.

    5. What’s the most important thing the successful candidate could accomplish in their first 3 months/6 months/year?

    Of all the questions to ask in a job interview, this one is impressive because it shows that you identify with and want to be a successful performer, and not just an average one.

    Here, you’re drilling down into what the company needs, and needs quite urgently, proving that you’re all about adding value to the organization and not just about what’s in it for you.

    How it helps you:

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    Most job descriptions come with 8, 10 or 12 different job responsibilities and a lot of them with be boilerplate or responsibilities that someone in HR thinks are associated with this role. This question gives you a better sense of which responsibilities are the most important—and they may not be what initially attracted you to the role.

    If you like the idea of training juniors, for example, but success is judged purely on your sales figures, then is this really the job you thought you were applying for?

    This question will also give you an idea of what kind of learning curve you’re expected to have and whether you’ll get any ramp-up time before getting down to business. If you’re the type of person who likes to jump right in and get things done, for instance, you may not be thrilled to hear that you’re going to spend the first three months shadowing a peer.

    6. What do you like about working here?

    This simple question is all about building rapport with the interviewer. People like to talk about themselves, and the interviewer will be flattered that you’re interested in her opinions.

    Hopefully, you’ll find some great connection points that the two of you share. What similar things drive you head into the office each day? How will you fit into the culture?

    How it helps you:

    You can learn a lot from this question. Someone who genuinely enjoys his job will be able to list several things they like, and their answers will sound passionate and sincere. If not….well, you might consider that a red flag.

    Since you potentially can learn a lot about the company culture from this question, it’s a good idea to figure out upfront what’s important to you. Maybe you’re looking for a hands-off boss who values independent thought and creativity? Maybe you work better in environments that move at a rapid, exciting pace?

    Whatever’s important to you, listen carefully and see if you can find any common ground.

    7. Based on this interview, do you have any questions or concerns about my qualifications for the role?

    What a great closing question to ask in a job interview! It shows that you’re not afraid of feedback—in fact, you are inviting it. Not being able to take criticism is a red flag for employers, who need to know that you’ll act on any “coaching moments” with a good heart.

    As a bonus, asking this question shows that you are really interested in the position and wish to clear up anything that may be holding the company back from hiring you.

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    How it helps you:

    What a devious beast this question is! On the surface, it looks straightforward, but it’s actually giving you four key pieces of information.

    First, is the manager capable of giving you feedback when put on the spot like this? Some managers are scared of giving feedback, or don’t think it’s important enough to bother outside of a formal performance appraisal. Do you want to work for a boss like that? How will you improve if no one is telling you what you did wrong?

    Second, can the manager give feedback in a constructive way without being too pillowy or too confrontational? It’s unfair to expect the interviewer to have figured out your preferred way of receiving feedback in the space of an interview, but if she come back with a machine-gun fire of shortcomings or one of those corporate feedback “sandwiches” (the doozy slipped between two slices of compliment), then you need to ask yourself, can you work with someone who gives feedback like that?

    Third, you get to learn the things the hiring manager is concerned about before you leave the interview. This gives you the chance to make a final, tailored sales pitch so you can convince the interviewer that she should not be worried about those things.

    Fourth, you get to learn the things the hiring manager is concerned about period. If turnover is keeping him up at night, then your frequent job hopping might get a lot of additional scrutiny. If he’s facing some issues with conflict or communication, then he might raise concerns regarding your performance in this area.

    Listen carefully: the concerns that are being raised about you might actually be a proxy for problems in the wider organization.

    Making Your Interview Work for You

    Interviews are a two-way street. While it is important to differentiate yourself from every other candidate, understand that convincing the interviewer you’re the right person for the role goes hand-in-hand with figuring out if the job is the right fit for you.

    Would you feel happy in a work environment where the people, priorities, culture and management style were completely at odds with the way you work? Didn’t think so!

    More Resources About Job Interviews

    Featured photo credit: Amy Hirschi via unsplash.com

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