Tried and True Tips for Clearly Communicating Your Messages

Whether you’re doing a 3-minute TV interview or a 30-minute Back-to-School night presentation, creating a simple action plan can mean the difference between communication success and failure. Taking a few minutes to think about your audience and plan your key messages will help you be the clear, persuasive expert you want to be!

After you have developed a communication plan several times, you may be able to do the entire process in your head. However, until you are confident in these four steps, it is probably most effective to write down a few notes. You can use the form included here or create another one that works better for you.

Step #1: Who is your audience?

Expert communicators always define their audience before they think about their topic or other content. For example, you would talk to school administrators differently than to parents or students because they care about different things and see the world from different viewpoints. Once you have defined your audience (e.g., parents, students, teachers, general public, etc.), you will able to present your chosen topic in a way that is most persuasive to that specific group.

Step #2: What is your topic?

Let’s say your topic is school breakfast. If your audience is school principals, your approach would be to talk about how breakfast at school has been shown to improve classroom learning, enhance academic success and reduce behavior problems. If your audience is high school students, it would probably be more effective to focus on taste, convenience and feeling better all morning long.

One more tip about choosing a topic: Keep it specific and simple. A common problem with interviews and presentations is that many people try to cram too much information into too short a time. You will know more than your audience about the topic, but you don’t have to tell them everything at once. It’s better to be clear and concise and to let the audience ask questions if they need more details.

Step #3: What is your goal?

Once you know whom you are speaking to and what you are talking about, you need to define your goal: What do you want the audience to do with the information you share? In the case of the principals and school breakfast, you might want to persuade them to join a pilot test of serving breakfast in the classroom. In talking to the high school students, you may want to convince them to buy grab-n-go breakfast at school rather than at a corner store or gas station.

Being clear about your goal will help you communicate more effectively to any audience about any topic. You can even start your interview or presentation with your goal. Let’s say that you’re doing a TV interview for a general audience about school breakfast and your goal is to increase participation. You might start out by saying, “In the next few minutes, I want to tell you about the exciting new breakfast options in our schools. I want you to know the benefits of school breakfast so that you will want your children and grandchildren to eat with us.”

Step #4: What are your key messages?

The final step is to develop three key messages. These are clear statements or facts that you want your audience to remember. In a short TV interview, these might be the answers to the interviewer’s questions. In a longer presentation, you will be able to elaborate and give examples using your key messages. For the TV example in step #3, these might be your key messages.

  • We serve a tasty, balanced breakfast every day in every school building.
  • In elementary schools, breakfast is served in the classroom after the bell rings. In middle and high schools, students can grab breakfast on their way into class.
  • We are now offering a convenient, tasty breakfast to every student at no cost.

Once you have used these four easy steps to outline a communication plan, all you have to do is practice, practice, practice. The best communicators know that this is the most important step – and they take every opportunity to practice their key messages over and over again. That way they can be clear, concise and confident talking to one person, to hundreds of people, or to a TV camera.

Download a Communication Action Plan Spreadsheet Here


Dayle Hayes, MS, RD, School Meals that Rock

Kate Hoy, RD, CD Cornell Center for Behavioral Economics in Child Nutrition Programs