Deliver a Core Message, Jon Stewart style

Television had one of its saddest moments this month when Jon Stewart ended his 16 years on The Daily Show. In watching his highlight clips, none was more painful–and entertaining–than his shredding of Tucker Carlson and Paul Begala as a guest on CNN’s “Crossfire” in 2004.

Jon Stewart

He refused to be funny but instead pleaded with them to stop pandering to their parties and creating unnecessary conflict. Then he said the phrase that would shut down Crossfire for good:

“Stop hurting America.”

What Stewart was using, and what we all should use much more, is a Core Message. It’s one of the simplest devices you can use in your communication. It can help you deliver better presentations, write more clearly and be more persuasive across the board.

So what’s a Core Message? It’s a brief statement (like a Tweet) of what you want to get across to your audience. For example, in our presentation skills workshops, the Core Message is that being a great presenter is a learned skill and is a matter of learning, practice and feedback. Jon Stewart’s message on Crossfire was that the hosts had a responsibility to have productive discussions and stop creating gratuitous conflict (like putting Revs. Jerry Falwell and Al Sharpton on the same show).

Think of this as your secret formatting tool on both a macro and micro level in your spoken and written communications.

Here’s a example: A few weeks ago, I worked with the leadership team of a company to help them improve the quality of their All-hands meetings. What we found is that they didn’t voice a cohesive message uniting all of their presentations. They decided to start using Core Messages in three ways: 1) For the meeting as a whole 2) For each specific presentation and 3) For each slide they showed. Instant clarity.

How you can use these in your presentations?

Take a step back and figure out what you want people to remember or do based on your talk. That is your Core Message.
Build and organize your talk around this message.
Use it early and often
Use it on your slides. The title of each slide should be a statement that tells the audience the message of that slide. When you introduce it say, “The point of this slide is …”

How can you use these in your writing?

Make your core message the Subject Line of every email. If the topic being discussed has changed, change the Subject.
Send separate emails for each different message or topic.
Write separate sentences for each different idea. This makes for shorter sentences and easier punctuation.

So remember (here comes my Core Message one more time…), we can’t all be as funny or incisive as Jon Stewart (like when he told Tucker Carlson “I will NOT be your monkey!”), but we can be more clear and persuasive.