The Message Triangle: A Guide to Public Speaking

Posted on May 10, 2023 12:00 PM

Public Speaking

You’ve spent weeks preparing for your presentation, and the day’s finally here.

You’re running on two hours of sleep and three cups of coffee. As you look out into the audience, you notice all eyes are on you. Suddenly, your hands start shaking, your mouth goes dry, and you forget everything you’ve prepared.

Have you experienced a situation like this? Maybe you didn’t forget everything, but the stress leading up to the big presentation took a toll on your confidence and your mental health. Sometimes, the preparation can be even more daunting than the presentation itself.

When you’re suddenly confronted with the stress-inducing task of researching, organizing, and crafting a presentation, it’s only natural to feel overwhelmed. With so many moving parts, it’s almost impossible not to think about all the many ways in which the presentation could go wrong. But one thought tends to be all-consuming: how will you get your audience to care about your message?

Ultimately, your job as a public speaker is to educate the members of your audience and deliver a message that resonates with them. Depending on the presentation topic, you may even want your audience to complete a certain action, or you may want to evoke a certain feeling.

So, where should you start?

Luckily, the message triangle is here to help. According to BoardSource’s Generate Buzz!, the message triangle is a tool used to structure a speech or presentation around a core message by addressing three points: the problem, the relevance to the audience, and the desired action or takeaway.

  • The problem. Presentations generally have more than one purpose: not only do they seek to educate the audience, but they also aim to solve a problem. For example, after a quarter of poor performance, the head of a marketing department may present new ideas to the team that are meant to improve marketing performance for the next quarter.
  • Relevance to the audience. Every effective presentation or speech ties into the audience’s interests or needs. An audience that feels connected to the message is much more likely to stay engaged for the duration of the speech. If you’re a climate activist giving a speech at a college, you may touch on how climate change is affecting the campus or local community.
  • Desired action or takeaway. Preparing a presentation requires you to think about what you want the audience to do after the presentation. Is there an action you want the audience to take? Is there a specific feeling you want to evoke through your presentation? Maybe your goal is to encourage the audience to reduce the use of single-use plastics. Or maybe you want the audience to donate to an animal shelter. No matter what the goal is, you must make sure to explain, clearly and concisely, how the action or takeaway benefits the audience.

The message triangle is most commonly used among nonprofit organizations, but the concept is relevant to public speaking in general. While public speaking can be nerve-wracking, leaning on the message triangle for guidance and preparation can help ease at least some of your nerves.


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Topics: Communication, Public Speaking

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