Talking points are meant to give people a quick and easy way of staying on track -- and not wandering off topic, or saying something completely different than what somebody else in the same organization is saying.
They're not meant to be read word-for-word, and may not be read at all. You can use them as seed material for other things: letters, speeches, a press release.
Talking points are an internal product. You don't e-mail them to reporters and editors. In fact, the information and message is typically sensitive. But don't write things in talking points that you wouldn't want the press to ever see, because these do leak out.
Often, you'll pair up talking points with a fact sheet, with the message and theme coming from the talking points and the numbers on a different page.
Talking points are a bit different, and it's not something they teach you in journalism school.
Here's where people tend to go astray, written in the style of Bad Talking Points:
Bad Talking Points: Slaying The Beast That Is Busy Eating An Entire Page
- The first sign of Bad Talking Points is length, as in too much of it. Filling an entire page with bullets doesn't work, because nobody can remember a page full of text. You want your audience to use it at a glance. This is not a quiz they should be cramming for, or a memorization test.
- The second sign of Bad Talking Points is more than one line per bullet. The shorthand for this is Talking Paragraphs. Is there more than one line? Break it up. You want to make it easy for people to use and remember these points, not hard. Talking points are meant to be an outline that anybody can use. The longer a bullet is, the less useful it becomes.
- The third sign of Bad Talking Points is burying the main points. Journalists call it "burying the lede," and yes, they spell "lead" differently. Don't ask. They mean hiding the headline, or drowning the main point in a sea of text.
- The fourth sign of Bad Talking Points is random bolding and underlining and exclamation points!!! It's as if formatting the thing like an overcaffeinated squirrel took over your mouse will make up for the long length and structural problems.
Now imagine a full page of this. It's not readable. It's not useful.
Good Talking Points: Clear and Concise
- If you only want people to say one thing, what is it? Put that in the first bullet.
- Organize it with sub-bullets.
- Your main point needs support.
- And people think in three's.
- Anticipate what the press will ask / opposition will say and pre-empt
- You don't need talking points for happy news.
- Something bad or controversial has happened.
- Be upfront about it.
- Save the snark. Be respectful.
- Talking points are used by many people.
- A funny line might be quotable and great if one person says it.
- When two or twenty people say it, it's not funny or effective.