What are talking points?

If you look at very many advocacy documents for nonprofit organizations, you’ll see all kinds of things labeled, ‘talking points.’ Some of them are really fact sheets, some are really abbreviated policy briefs, some are myth/fact summaries, some are endorsements. All of these things can play a valuable role in an advocacy campaign, but that does not make all of them talking points.

In essence, talking points are those messages that you want advocates to really USE when they’re lobbying on behalf of your issue/legislation. They are tailored to the specific audience (so you might have some for media and some slightly different ones for legislative targets, and maybe even different ones for potential allies). They are designed to persuade, not simply (or even primarily) to inform; that’s what you use policy briefs and fact sheets for (although those, too, should be persuasive–otherwise, why bother?). They can be longer than a policy brief, but they must be shorter than a background paper or full legislative analysis. Importantly, they are not designed to be just handed over to your targets, but, instead, used to guide lobbying communications–that’s why they’re called talking points. In some cases, you don’t even want them to be public, because they include guidance to your advocates that reveal weaknesses in some of your arguments (such as advising people not to respond to xyz question, because it’s a no-win for your side) or direct people to which compromises you’d be willing to accept.

I’m not the world’s greatest talking points writer. I have a fondness for words (shocking, hunh?) that is not my friend in trying to prepare very concise talking points. So, I’ve tried to pull together, in the links below, some examples that I think are pretty good, to give you an idea of what talking points look like. To find these, I also looked at dozens of ‘talking points’ that were way too long, way too detailed, had graphics/charts (which, obviously, can’t be conveyed very well orally), and were, in other ways, potentially excellent tools but not really talking points. In one case, I found the script for a DHHS official’s speech, labeled, ‘talking points’ (hopefully we don’t need to be prompted by our talking points to say, ‘good morning!’).

I would be happy to look at your talking points, since they really are an important tool in equipping your lobbying team for successful interactions, and to offer feedback. And if you now realize that your talking points really aren’t, don’t despair. There’s a good chance that, with just a little tweaking, they can easily become another type of document that you need for lobbying, also!

Georgia AFL-CIO Talking Points on Opposing Trade Policy in Colombia

Audobon Society Talking Points on Global Warming

Drummajor Institute’s Talking Points on Immigration

One response to “What are talking points?

  1. Pingback: My worst policy presentations | Classroom to Capitol

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