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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 December 3, 2019

    10 Life Lessons You’d Better Learn Early on in Life

    10 Life Lessons You’d Better Learn Early on in Life

    There are so many lessons I wish I had learned while I was young enough to appreciate and apply them. The thing with wisdom, and often with life lessons in general, is that they’re learned in retrospect, long after we needed them. The good news is that other people can benefit from our experiences and the lessons we’ve learned.

    Here’re 10 important life lessons you should learn early on:

    1. Money Will Never Solve Your Real Problems

    Money is a tool; a commodity that buys you necessities and some nice “wants,” but it is not the panacea to your problems.

    There are a great many people who are living on very little, yet have wonderfully full and happy lives… and there are sadly a great many people are living on quite a lot, yet have terribly miserable lives.

    Money can buy a nice home, a great car, fabulous shoes, even a bit of security and some creature comforts, but it cannot fix a broken relationship, or cure loneliness, and the “happiness” it brings is only fleeting and not the kind that really and truly matters. Happiness is not for sale. If you’re expecting the “stuff” you can buy to “make it better,” you will never be happy.

    2. Pace Yourself

    Often when we’re young, just beginning our adult journey we feel as though we have to do everything at once. We need to decide everything, plan out our lives, experience everything, get to the top, find true love, figure out our life’s purpose, and do it all at the same time.

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    Slow down—don’t rush into things. Let your life unfold. Wait a bit to see where it takes you, and take time to weigh your options. Enjoy every bite of food, take time to look around you, let the other person finish their side of the conversation. Allow yourself time to think, to mull a bit.

    Taking action is critical. Working towards your goals and making plans for the future is commendable and often very useful, but rushing full-speed ahead towards anything is a one-way ticket to burnout and a good way to miss your life as it passes you by.

    3. You Can’t Please Everyone

    “I don’t know the secret to success, but the secret to failure is trying to please everyone” – Bill Cosby.

    You don’t need everyone to agree with you or even like you. It’s human nature to want to belong, to be liked, respected and valued, but not at the expense of your integrity and happiness. Other people cannot give you the validation you seek. That has to come from inside.

    Speak up, stick to your guns, assert yourself when you need to, demand respect, stay true to your values.

    4. Your Health Is Your Most Valuable Asset

    Health is an invaluable treasure—always appreciate, nurture, and protect it. Good health is often wasted on the young before they have a chance to appreciate it for what it’s worth.

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    We tend to take our good health for granted, because it’s just there. We don’t have to worry about it, so we don’t really pay attention to it… until we have to.

    Heart disease, bone density, stroke, many cancers—the list of many largely preventable diseases is long, so take care of your health now, or you’ll regret it later on.

    5. You Don’t Always Get What You Want

    “Life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans.” – John Lennon

    No matter how carefully you plan and how hard you work, sometimes things just don’t work out the way you want them to… and that’s okay.

    We have all of these expectations; predetermined visions of what our “ideal” life will look like, but all too often, that’s not the reality of the life we end up with. Sometimes our dreams fail and sometimes we just change our minds mid-course. Sometimes we have to flop to find the right course and sometimes we just have to try a few things before we find the right direction.

    6. It’s Not All About You

    You are not the epicenter of the universe. It’s very difficult to view the world from a perspective outside of your own, since we are always so focused on what’s happening in our own lives. What do I have to do today? What will this mean for me, for my career, for my life? What do I want?

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    It’s normal to be intensely aware of everything that’s going on in your own life, but you need to pay as much attention to what’s happening around you, and how things affect other people in the world as you do to your own life. It helps to keep things in perspective.

    7. There’s No Shame in Not Knowing

    No one has it all figured out. Nobody has all the answers. There’s no shame in saying “I don’t know.” Pretending to be perfect doesn’t make you perfect. It just makes you neurotic to keep up the pretense of manufactured perfection.

    We have this idea that there is some kind of stigma or shame in admitting our limitations or uncertainly, but we can’t possibly know everything. We all make mistakes and mess up occasionally. We learn as we go, that’s life.

    Besides—nobody likes a know-it-all. A little vulnerability makes you human and oh so much more relatable.

    8. Love Is More Than a Feeling; It’s a Choice

    That burst of initial exhilaration, pulse quickening love and passion does not last long. But that doesn’t mean long-lasting love is not possible.

    Love is not just a feeling; it’s a choice that you make every day. We have to choose to let annoyances pass, to forgive, to be kind, to respect, to support, to be faithful.

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    Relationships take work. Sometimes it’s easy and sometimes it’s incredibly hard. It is up to us to choose how we want to act, think and speak in a relationship.

    9. Perspective Is a Beautiful Thing

    Typically, when we’re worried or upset, it’s because we’ve lost perspective. Everything that is happening in our lives seems so big, so important, so do or die, but in the grand picture, this single hiccup often means next to nothing.

    The fight we’re having, the job we didn’t get, the real or imagined slight, the unexpected need to shift course, the thing we wanted, but didn’t get. Most of it won’t matter 20, 30, 40 years from now. It’s hard to see long term when all you know is short term, but unless it’s life-threatening, let it go, and move on.

    10. Don’t Take Anything for Granted

    We often don’t appreciate what we have until it’s gone: that includes your health, your family and friends, your job, the money you have or think you will have tomorrow.

    When you’re young, it seems that your parents will always be there, but they won’t. You think you have plenty of time to get back in touch with your old friends or spend time with new ones, but you don’t. You have the money to spend, or you think you’ll have it next month, but you might not.

    Nothing in your life is not guaranteed to be there tomorrow, including those you love.

    This is a hard life lesson to learn, but it may be the most important of all: Life can change in an instant. Make sure you appreciate what you have, while you still have it.

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    Featured photo credit: Ben Eaton via unsplash.com

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