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Anatomy of a Message

The President of the United States called me the other day. I wasn’t in, so he left a message.

He’s a skilled communicator; let’s see what we can learn from his message. We’ll analyze the pluses and minuses.

1) Intro: He opened with, “Hi, this is the President. I rarely make these calls and I apologize for intruding on your day.”

Plus: You need to establish your credentials right away. If you’re the President, you probably should mention that.

President Barack Obama
Photo by: Pete Souza
President Barack Obama

Minus: Apologizing. A lot of people open presentations with a disclaimer. “I rarely do this,” they say. “I’m a little unprepared.” “I’m completely nauseous.”

My advice: don’t.

2) Purpose statement: “I had to talk to you about the election in Massachusetts because the stakes are so high.”

Plus: “You” is a wonderful word to use when presenting. It keeps the presenter focused on the audience.

Minus: Unfortunately, he emphasized the word “election.” If he had emphasized “you” (“I had to talk with YOU”), it would have sounded more personal.

I began to wonder, does he even know who I am? Or is he just calling everyone in the entire state?

3) Main message: The main message was to vote for a specific candidate for Senate.

Plus: It’s important to have a main message, and it should be 10 words or less. (Misc. advice to the President: get a 10-word, benefit-driven message for health care reform).

There were three key points supporting the main message, which is just right. Three is a good number: 3 strikes and you’re out; 3 meals a day; the 3 Stooges.

I could go on, but that’s three examples.

4) Call to action: “A lot of people don’t realize there is an election on Tuesday. They don’t realize why it’s so important . . . So please, come out to vote . . .”

Plus: Clear, specific action.

Minus: The phrase, “a lot of people don’t realize” could be a nice way of saying that a lot of people are complete idiots. On the other hand, I did know there was an election, so I felt ok about that.

One last thing: the President forgot to leave his number. He’s probably wondering why I haven’t called back.

Tip: Got an important message? Whether it’s long or short, think it through.

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Consultant, author, speaker, and founder of express potential® (www.expresspotential.com), Paul Hellman has worked with CEOs, executives, and managers at leading companies for over 25 years to improve performance and productivity at work. His latest book is “Naked at Work: How to Stay Sane When Your Job Drives You Crazy,” and his columns have appeared in the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Washington Post and other leading papers.

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