“Messaging Matters” eNews #1

Master your Sequence

Welcome to the first Messaging Matters eNewsletter. (You’ve signed up for it when you downloaded the Message House toolkit). Every three months we will send you a new edition, focused on one practice or idea that can help you communicate effectively.

For this edition, I want to share a simple trick for how to remember in what sequence to deliver one’s key messages, for instance when doing your “elevator speech.” (An elevator speech is a brief, spoken communication about your work or yourself aimed at making a great impression.)

The sequence issue came up during a recent Elevatorspeechtraining.com (EST) session with a client (EST is part of the MessageHouse.org group). During the video conference practice call, the client did her elevator speech several times. As we reviewed each performance via instant video replay, we realized that she was sequencing her key messages differently every time.

Sequencing matters. One of the most useful things to do when you have to speak about your work or yourself is knowing what you’ll say first, and knowing what you’ll say last. You want to make a great first impression, and you also want to leave your listener with an impactful final statement. Ideally, you’ve also mastered the sequence of the key messages between your first and last one.

Mastering one’s sequence can be a challenge. Especially if you’re a bit nervous, it easily happens that we mix up our messages, and maybe even forget to include some of them. We see this happening frequently in our elevator speech training sessions.

So here’s the trick for how to “master the sequence”:

First, label each of your messages (no more than one to three words). Then write down all the labels as a bulleted list. In the example of our EST client, the list looked like this:

  • Project
  • Grant
  • Artists
  • Event
  • Partners
  • Importance
  • Funding

Basically, this list meant that our client wanted to sequence her elevator pitch in the following way:

Briefly explain the project (drilling down into and preserving the history of a major US city’s neighborhood that is about to undergo major change)

A well-known foundation has already given a grant to support the project, but it requires the client to raise matching funds.

The client is working together with other artists to ensure success.

The main element of the project will be a live street event

The clients is partnering with institutions to house records, artifacts and documentation that will come from the project

The project matters in the larger scheme of things because it’s about ensuring a positive future for the city.

Call to action: Please support the project financially.

To memorize the sequence of these message labels, we used a mnemonic (i.e., memorization) technique that goes back to the ancient orators in Rome and Athens. They used it to memorize their speeches. It’s still widely used to this day. In a nutshell, the trick is to create a visual image for each label and then tie the images together through powerful, vivid associations, so that each image will lead to the next. The more over-the-top and preposterous the associations are the better because this will make them easy to remember. It is the visual nature of the images and the vividness of the associations that will make the sequence unforgettable, and allow the client to consistently tell her elevator speech in the right and optimal order every time.

So here’s the visual association sequence our client came up with:

Our client reaches with her arm deep into a drill hole in the ground (remember, her project is about “drilling” into a city’s history). It’s a bit creepy because it’s all muddy and dark, and who knows what is down there.

Suddenly the tips of her fingers feel bundles of cash at the bottom of the hole. She pulls out one bundle after another.

Several artists who were watching from a distance, see the money and walk up in excitement, beginning to sing and dance around our client in a circle.

The artists begin to attach all kinds of artifacts to a wall to exhibit the history of the area in a live street event (imagine concrete things, like bones, documents, old tools, etc., sticking to a concrete wall).

Suddenly, the wall splinters and transforms into a powdery magic carpet that flies to libraries, museums, and other partner institutions to be preserved there.

As the powder version of the wall and its artifacts re-assembles itself inside the partner institutions, massive protective walls rise around each of them to protect these crticial assets; that’s how important this project is to the future.

Our client stands on one of the walls as it is rising, carefully keeping her balance and waving a flag with dollar signs on it to indicate the need for the project’s existing funds to be matched.

That’s it. All of these images and associations are over-the-top, and that’s exactly why they are easy to remember. Our brains find it much easier to remember concrete images and intensely emotional associations as opposed to abstract concepts.

Within just a few minutes of concocting these images and associations during the EST session, the client was able to memorize the right sequence of messages effortlessly.

A great book to learn more about this and similar memory techniques is “Unlimited Memory: How to Use Advanced Learning Strategies to Learn Faster, Remember More and be More Productive” by Kevin Horsley.

I didn’t talk about how many of the messages in our client’s elevator speech are based on the Message House method. Let’s reserve that for another edition of this newsletter.

Thanks for reading! And happy communicating.


Marc Fest is the founder of MessageHouse.org, a toolkit to create great key messages and help teams stay on message. Based on the Message House method, he also created ElevatorSpeechTraining.com, a training practice that uses video conferencing to help clients worldwide make a great impression when talking about their work or themselves.