University Marketing & Communications

October 2, 2015

Going beyond talking points

Jack Martin

“We need talking points.”

Anyone who has worked in communications has heard these words. But talking points, for all their ubiquity, have limitations. I’m not talking about what’s in the points, but the very essence of talking points themselves.

The Message Box and Message Triangle, which I learned from Steve Allen of Salient Point, take talking points to a new level.

Message Box

Blank Message BoxDownload the Word doc: Blank Message Box


Message Triangle

Blank Triangle 2Download the Word doc: Blank Message Triangle


So why are Message Boxes and Message Triangles better than talking points?

  • They’re not linear. With talking points, we instinctively think the first one is more important than the last, regardless of whether that’s true. With the Message Box/Triangle, each of the key messages gets equal billing. It’s also equally easy to start with any key message, unlike talking points where it’s hard to start anywhere but the top.
  • They force you to hone your message. Talking points can be infinitely long. It’s too easy to add a fifth, sixth, tenth, hundredth talking point, even when any good communication has only three or four key messages. The Message Box/Triangle prevents you from adding more key messages than any audience can comprehend, while still providing room for supporting points underneath. (There is no Message Pentagram!)
  • They’re easier to use in shaping other communications. A Message Box/Triangle is a valuable platform upon which to build a wide range of communications. If a speech is needed, the key sections are all there and can be arranged in the optimal order for the remarks. If it’s a publication, the key messages are evident and the supporting information easily referenced.

So what does a developed Message Box/Triangle look like? Here’s an example that was developed for the discussion on the UW’s Fall 2015 enrollment projections.

Fall 2015 Enrollment


Our central value focuses on the leading-edge student experience, one of our brand pillars. And each of the three sections focuses on a different, related key message.

In an interview, a question about the size of the 2015 class could be answered starting in the top left with the record numbers and moving through into a discussion of how these students will get an outstanding education thanks in part to the diversity of their peers. Or a question on the number of resident students could be answered starting with the top right and move through into either or both of the other two sections.

A Message Box or Message Triangle is a valuable tool, and I’m happy to talk further with any of my UW colleagues who are interested in adding it to their communications toolkits.