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Talking points are fine. Narratives work better.

Updated: Sep 30, 2023

Book on a table, open

I’ve worked on many teams that prepare talking points for officials by putting together a list of bullet-pointed sentences, sometimes organized by theme and sometimes not. I’ve written that style of talking points myself, when requested. But I consistently notice the same result:

Bulleted lists are useful to expand on a concept but poor at connecting one concept to another. What’s more, they can be difficult to personalize and commit to memory.

Such talking points have a place: When preparing an official who already knows how to talk about an issue but needs a few reminders about changes or updates, bullet points are an efficient format to convey those mental edits to the official’s existing storyline.

But if you’re trying to communicate a complex issue and your speaker doesn’t already have a tried-and-true way to talk about it, bulleted talking points leave them vulnerable.

That’s why I use narratives.

A narrative tells a story. It has a beginning, middle and end.

  • The beginning sets the context and introduces the “characters” (sometimes real people, but more often a subject like a project or goal).

  • The middle navigates a challenge, hurdle, change or conflict.

  • The ending brings resolution and describes how it feels to be on the other side.

Where talking points communicate facts, narratives drive understanding.

Why? Because the human brain relies on stories, not information, to make sense of the world. Our ancestors used stories to keep clans moving in pursuit of the same cause. Our politicians use them in much the same way. Even before we learn to speak as children, we’re already digesting stories, falling asleep as our parents read to us at night, hearing our family members recount their days, even watching the ambient television programming playing in our periphery.

Consider this: When you ask a friend, “What’s new?” do you want them tick off a list of recent events in their life? Or do you want them to tell a story where they’re the main character, navigating and overcoming struggles, whether it’s as simple as braving bad traffic or as tantalizing as toppling their boss? Even if you think you’d prefer the first option, which do you think helps you relate to them better?

We need stories to learn. Without stories, data is almost useless.

Narratives translate the concepts you need to communicate into a storyline, making it easier for your spokespeople to remember, internalize and articulate in their own words more naturally. Narratives force speakers to spend a little bit more time than they’d give a set of bullet points, digesting the information to develop a personalized level of understanding.

Once they’re on stage or on camera, they feel more confident to own the messaging and represent it authentically than they’d feel with a list of data points they’d just committed to memory.

So go ahead and give it a try! Next time you’re putting together some talking points, write it out as a story first – beginning, middle and end. You’ll be surprised at what a difference it makes.


Need help messaging a complicated topic to prepare your spokespeople for publicity? Reach out for a free call to talk through what a narrative might look like for your topic or issue. Just ping us at the form below with the subject line “Need Narrative Now” and we’ll be in touch!

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