Focus Your Message in Interviews and Presentations

Focus Your Message

If you only have ‘seconds’ to tell your story, focus your message!

From The Three Little Pigs to omne trium perfectum (Latin for “everything is perfect in sets of three”), use of the number three to convey information has long been imbedded in our culture. Time is divided into three parts; a beginning, a middle, and an end. And even famed entrepreneur Steve Jobs used the Rule of Three to bring power to his presentations.


Neurologists say our brains remember stories and ideas better if they’re presented in threes. So I often coach people how to apply the Rule of Three to their presentations. Any more information than that, scientists claim, leaves our short-term memory scrambling to remember what we’ve been told. Moreover, we’re better at remembering what we want to say if we use this principle.

But what if you only have :10 seconds to make your point?

Whether you’re being interviewed by the media or posting online, chances are you will only have a few seconds grab peoples’ attention and to tell your story. So you need to know what your key message is and be sure it is focused, direct, and short. (Notice the use of ‘three’ in that example?)

Here are a few tips to consider:

  1. When prepping for an interview, if it’s appropriate, prepare a succinct list of questions ahead of time to give to the reporter/anchor/host to ask you. (For example if you’re an author being interviewed about your book). They may or may not ask you these exact questions, but doing this will give both you and them a guideline for the interview. And it will help you crystallize your points.
  2. If you are being interviewed about a controversial topic or part of your message might be considered controversial, think about how you’ll answer the tough questions. How will you defend your point-of-view? How will you handle controversy?  Consider those questions (what we sometimes call ‘rude Q & A’). Prepare these answers ahead of time.
  3. Mention your most salient point first. What do you want your audience to take away from this interview? This will be most likely remembered best.
  4. When teaching your listener or viewer something, divide your instruction into three steps.
  5. Tell your audience what you want them to know, explain what that is, and end your talk by repeating what you want them to know.
  6. Use a story! People remember stories longer than abstract ideas. You can get more of your point across in a quick story than a statistical sound-bite. And stories will capture your audience’s attention and be remembered. Referring to the second tip above, a colleague recently told me about a speaker she went to see at a local university campus. The woman was widely regarded as an expert in her field, and wrote articles for the Huffington Post, New York Times, and more. But neuroscientists in the audience disputed her theories in the Q & A session after her talk. She clearly wasn’t prepared to defend her views, and didn’t give clear rebuttals or explanations. By the end of the night, this particular expert had lost all credibility with her audience. Only two people lined up to buy her book!

Finally, as Steve Jobs said, “practice, practice, practice” – then practice even more. Use the Rule of Three. And think of your interview as a theatrical presentation. Imagine the stage and your audience. Rehearse your lines. Steve Jobs made his presentations look flawless. But, in truth, every facet of what he delivered on stage was rehearsed over and over and over again. To present yourself in a polished way, there simply is no substitution for preparation and practice.

I’ve worked with clients who like to ‘fly by the seat of their pants’ when it comes to interviews and presentations. Those experiences didn’t go so well (and why they ended up at my door). You’ve worked hard for the exposure – take some time to prepare ahead of time so you can make the best of your opportunity.


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4 years ago

EXCELLENT! EXCELLENT! EXCELLENT! (notice I said it 3 times 😉
Truly, this is a great post and a great reminder for interviews and content creation alike. Thank you so much, I always get so much out of your posts.

Margo Myers
4 years ago
Reply to  Becky hENCHMAN

Becky – Thanks for your comments! I’m so glad you found the post useful, and I appreciate you taking the time to post your comment!

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