I'm working on a communications strategy for a local non-profit.  Doing this has reminded me of the importance and enduring usefulness of the "three key questions", questions I learned from Joan Ethier of Ethier Associates years ago, when she first asked me to assist her with presentations training for her many clients, and questions I have used over and over again, ever since.  These three key questions work for job application cover letters, political speeches, grant applications, marriage proposals, television interviews -- any communication challenge you can imagine.

Here they are:

  • What is my message?
  • Who is my audience?
  • What are their interests?

They sound so simple!  But look and listen, and see how frequently they are ignored by the people and corporations around you.  Paying attention to them will make you a more effective communicator.

What is my message?:  This question is often restated as "have an elevator speech" or "if you can't state it simply, you don't really know it yet".  Know what you want your audience to know, and keep saying "why do I want them to know that?" until you're sure you're at the root of the matter.

Who is my audience?:  Picture those people or that person as you plan, write, or speak.

What are their interests?:  This is the one most often ignored.  How often have you read a job application that tells you why the applicant would like to have the job, without telling how the applicant can make your business better?  How about the grant application that tells you how much the project needs money, without telling you how it will further the goals of the grant-giver?  Think about your audience and what they hope for, or what they're trying to protect, or what they're afraid of.  Then write or speak to those interests.

Three key questions, so simple and yet so powerful.  Thanks, Joan -- I still try to use them every time I communicate.