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Four Places to Deliver the Key Message


Techniques General persuasion > Articles on persuasion > Four Places to Deliver the Key Message

Up front | Last thing | Soon | Late | See also


If you want to persuade someone about something, when do you deliver the key message, the point you want them to understand, accept and agree with?

Up front

Giving the key message up-front is headlining. Like newspapers, you put the banner at the top, then add further details and justification. This uses a primacy effect in making them more likely to remember the first point.

The risk here is rejection and ignoring. If they do not get the headline, they may build a wall early, ignoring your subsequent argument as they think about their response (they may even just leave). This is like the sales customer's objection. They are not 'bought in', so they find reasons and excuses not to buy.

This works better when you have a captive audience who are motivated to keep listening. You can help this by creating curiosity, for example by making bold and counter-intuitive statements that grab attention. Threats which trigger fear also create continued attention.

Last thing

The classic argument builds a careful case that inexorably leads to an inescapable conclusion. This is like a crime story, where the detective exposes the wrong-doer in the final thrilling denouement. This has the benefit of a recency effect in making the final point likely to be remembered.

The problem with this is that you may lose the other person along the way. They may get bored, become confused or come up with an objection so by the time you reach you conclusion they are not with you.

This works best with an audience who is interested in the topic, who are able to follow your arguments and who are open enough to suspend judgement until you are finished.

You can help this with engaging, enthusiastic speaking that regularly checks understanding and seeks agreement at key points along the way. Avoid the trap of wanting to complete your speech so much that you will keep going even if nobody is really listening. Build tension at each step that will be resolved in your final conclusion.


A variant of the up-front headline approach is either to provide a shorter argument before the conclusion, or to create interest and need first with a provocative challenge or alarming data. This can then be followed with further supporting argument and information.

This can work well but loses the primacy effect of the headline. If the key point does not stand out then it may be missed or later forgotten.

You can make this work with alarming headlines and a surprising solution that retains attention as the audience still wants to know more. If the headline says why and the key statement says what, then the follow-up can say how.


Another variant is to make the key point later in your speech. This allows time for a build-up as in the 'last thing' approach but adds a section that gives further justification.

A risk with this approach are that the key point gets lost, not standing out nor gaining any primacy or recency benefit. Done poorly, this can be the worst option as people drop out early or do not buy the point or the justification.

A way to make this work is to structure it as a 'last thing', accelerating towards the key point in order to gain attention. Then address likely objections before they are brought up.

See also

Public Speaking and Presentation, Communication


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