5 Tips for Staying on Message

It sounds easy enough — you’ve a got a message to communicate, and an interview scheduled to do just that. What if you find yourself in front of the public unable to answer their questions, or you’re just having a hard time staying focused? These five tips will help you stay on message when the pressure’s on.

Find a Simple Touchstone

5 Tips for Staying on Message
Image via Flickr by Lee Jordan

It’s a lot easier to knock someone off-balance when they’re standing on one leg than when they have both feet firmly planted on the ground. Similarly, if your message is too complicated or abstract, you’re going to have a hard time keeping the conversation on track, but a simple message will keep you grounded.

Spend some time simplifying your message to its most essential form. If it’s easy to remember and understand, it will work as an anchor, giving you something to come back to if you feel the conversation start to drift.


You may not know exactly what questions you’ll have to answer, but that doesn’t mean you can’t prepare. Brainstorm likely questions. What would you ask if you were conducting the interview? Which questions would you least like to hear? Find a partner and practice answering a range of questions, from softballs to gotchas, always bringing the answer back to your core message. Rehearse with the clock – no how long you need to speak to (editing).

Learn Your ABCs

The structure of your answers can help keep you on message as well. Media-savvy types, from civic leaders to executives, use the “ABC” technique to artfully steer the discussion back to what they want to talk about. To use this technique, follow these steps:

  • Acknowledge the question by saying something like, “That’s a really interesting question,” or “I’m glad you asked.”
  • Build a bridge from the question to your message with a transitional phrase like, “The community has informed me that the pressing issue is …” or “another way to look at it might be …”
  • Control the conversation by bringing the answer back to your message.

Repeat, Restate, and Reiterate

Marketers are fond of debating the “Rule of Seven,” or the number of times a sales proposition needs to be repeated before a potential customer becomes a buyer. Repetition is important, but saying the same thing over and over again can be a turnoff. So how do you repeat yourself without being redundant?

Try to find other ways to communicate the idea you want to get across. Prepare anecdotes, data points, and analogies that support your message while keeping the conversation varied and engaging. In addition, prepare messages that range in length, such as 15, 30, and 60 second speeches, that will fit different mediums.

Evaluate and Revise

Once the interview is over, take some time to think through what occurred. Were you asked a question you didn’t expect? Was there a point at which you struggled to stay on message, and if so, what threw you off-balance? Is there something you can do next time to better prepare? Jot down a few notes about what went well and what you wish had gone differently, and refer to them when you prep for your next interview.

Even the most gifted communicators need help to stay on message. By putting these tips into practice, you’ll be on the path to media mastery.

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