Crisis communicators rank message maps among the most useful tools for quickly and concisely delivering information. By conceiving of your message map as a response to a question, you can organize your message so it has the best chance to connect with your audience.
About Message Maps
Message maps are created so communicators can respond to anticipated questions or concerns with succinct messages created from more fully developed answers.
They allow communicators to work from consistent messages, include key points, and avoid omitting important facts that the audience needs to know.
Message mapping uses the Triple T model of communication:
1. Tell me (share what you most want your audience to know).
2. Tell me more (share your supporting information).
3. Tell me again (repeat the information).
Quick tip: By including the executive team during development of your message maps, you can help ensure buy-in at the highest level within your organization. Without this support, you risk internal roadblocks. But with executive support from the earliest stages, you are better prepared to present information in what communication research says is the easiest way for audiences experiencing risk to hear, understand, and remember.
Message maps can be presented in a box or bullet format. Built on the magic number three, message maps provide three main messages, each with three supporting facts. If required, each supporting fact can be further supported with proof points (information that proves the fact).
Start with a Question
A message map is developed in response to a specific question. Sometimes communicators make the mistake of beginning a message map on a general topic that is too broad (for example, heart disease).
When titling your message map, you’ll find it is much more useful if it is framed in response to a question (for example, “Why are middle-aged men experiencing higher-than-normal levels of heart disease?”).
Framing the message map in response to a question does three things:
1. Puts crisis communicators in the place of their audience. Knowing the specific concerns of your audience is a basic practice for any communicator. It’s their journey, not yours, that should be at the heart of your communications. Think through what is most important to your audience, and organize your response with that concern in mind.
2. Creates a sense of urgency. By addressing a specific issue rather than throwing out a broad topic for the audience to ponder, responding to a specific question puts everyone in the room on the same page. Everyone working on the map knows the specific concern was selected because it is of major importance to their audience.
3. Focuses the answers. Responding to a specific question narrows the focus of everyone involved in planning. Representatives from around the company may debate the best messaging, but asking a question ensures they are better aligned—and this alignment leads to more effective messaging. If there are other questions, you need other maps.
Pathway Prompt: What are recent questions your message maps have needed to answer?
Communicating Effectively When Feelings, Fears, and Facts Collide
More information about risk, high-concern, and crisis communication can be found in Dr. Covello’s video-based course Pathway to Risk, High-Concern, and Crisis Communication.
This master class introduces communicators to the tools and techniques for communicating effectively—while providing greater insight into why audiences react the way they do during times of stress.
The course comprises nine video lectures and accompanying text modules, plus supplemental materials for putting valuable lessons into practice. More information about the course, including group rates and partnering opportunities, can be found by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dr. Vincent Covello
Dr. Vincent Covello, director of the Center for Risk Communication, is one of the world’s leading experts and practitioners on risk, high-concern, and crisis communication. He is the author of more than 150 articles in scientific journals and the author/editor of more than 20 books.