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Words Matter

I’m part of a community here in Minnesota called Coalition 9, which brings leaders of all types together to learn from one another, create relationships, and support each other’s success. Recently, Coalition 9 held a communications workshop as part of their Spark! series. I was fortunate to facilitate this workshop, called Words Matter, with my friend and fellow Coalition 9 member Heather Polivka of HeatherP Solutions and Awesome People Leaders.

During my part of the workshop, we focused on how entrepreneurs and small business owners can establish the foundation for their communications to ensure they’re making the right connections and establish themselves as thought leaders in their field. I’m glad to bring those insights to those of you who couldn’t be with us that day!

Pinpointing your key messages

I often use the analogy of a house when explaining the importance of key messages. They form the foundation of your communications—the foundation of your house. If your foundation isn’t strong, anything you try to build on top of it will be, at best, shaky. At worst, your content will be inconsistent and can even erode your message and make it harder for people to understand what you truly do and what you stand for. So, you need to get your key messages right.

Key messages are themes that you can go to time and again. In order to uncover your key messages, you can ask yourself some questions about yourself, your company or your product:

  • Who do you exist to serve?

  • What makes you unique from everyone else?

  • What’s the bigger reason for your existence?

  • What promises do you want to make to those you serve and to society at large?

As a business owner, you can never fully separate yourself from your company, and you shouldn’t try to. Your key messages should relate to your company’s purpose, but you can also create some for yourself that you use to increasingly create a distinction between the things you talk about as a professional, and what your company talks about.

Once you have established your key messages, you’ll want to ensure your leadership team is aligned and on board, to review them regularly as your business evolves, and to use them as the foundation for various marketing materials you create – creating consistency that makes your message memorable.

Establishing your content pillars

Content pillars are the topics that help you bring your key messages to life. They sit atop your foundation of key messages, and you’ll use them to build your editorial calendar and all the great content you’ll be creating.

Content pillars help you ensure your content is consistent and focused, which means they’re as much about what you won’t talk about as what you will.

For instance, here’s an example from another part of my business, which is focused on helping high school students tell their stories in their college admissions essays and get into their dream schools. One of my key messages is that clear, compelling essays are a student’s best chance to stand out in the college application process. Building off of this message, my content pillars center on elevating a student’s essay messaging, confidently telling their story, identifying what makes them unique, and articulating how they’ll contribute on campus.

But I’m also not a psychologist or a career coach. So, it’s important to define the things I won’t talk about, like teen psychology, financial aid, standardized test prep, and so on. Interestingly, these topics are all things that I see peers in my field talking about, but they’re not my area of expertise and don’t directly pertain to how I want to serve my audience, so I avoid the temptation to dip my toes into those waters. I recommend you be intentional about what you will and won’t talk about and stick to it, even when it’s tempting to veer off course.

Nailing the fundamentals

I wrapped up my part of the workshop by covering the fundamentals of great communication:

  • Transparency—Honestly and authenticity are incredibly important to the folks you’re communicating with. Whenever possible, strive for transparency in all you say and do.

  • Two-way—Ask for and listen to feedback from your audience, whether that’s adding a question to your LinkedIn post or holding live Q&A sessions.

  • End-user centric—The best content puts the customer or audience in the hero role, and makes you and your company the guide that helps them achieve their aims. Tell your story from the audience’s perspective instead of yours; your role is to solve their problem or give them something they need (or need to know).

  • Action—Words matter, but when they’re not followed up with action, it erodes your audience’s confidence. Be sure you’re backing up what you say with concrete action. This is where Heather Polivka shared incredible insights with our audience about listening, building and maintaining trust, managing through conflict, an separating fact from interpretation. It was brilliant, and if these topics are of interest to you, I highly recommend you get in touch with her.

Getting started

Are you a business leader who’s ready to get clear on your foundational messages and how to bring them to life to create consistency and repetition across all of your materials? The team at Tschida Communications is here to help. Reach out to learn more.

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