Guide to Writing Talking Points
As senior policymakers within government and/or senior advisors to NGO leaders, you are often asked to write the “Talking Points” for your leaders. Talking points are not speeches. Talking points are written by a leader’s senior staff to help him or her prepare for either a big meeting or a series of meetings. The points are used during the meeting as references for him or her to use.
In many national-level governments, talking points are written by more than one individual. If we were to use the U.S. government as an example, let us imagine that the U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry plans to conduct negotiations with Iran over nuclear arms. Secretary Kerry does not write his talking points. He will come to the meeting armed with documents written by his staff. These documents are the U.S. positions on a particular negotiation. They will be written by Middle East experts, Iran-specific experts, nuclear experts, and so on. In other words, they are written by a team of senior diplomats.
You will be doing the same … with your team.
You will work with your team to write the talking points for the USAID Administrator to speak with his or her counterparts at the 2014 Mexico conference. In your talking points, you will get right to the heart of the matter. You will assume the USAID Administrator is familiar with the aid effectiveness histories. You will not write him a background paper or an essay. You will imagine that he or she will enter into a series of bilateral discussions with his development partners. Be specific in your talking points. This includes not only to whom are the talking points for. For example, a bilateral between the USAID Administration and leader of DFID will have different talking points than a bilateral with the leader of Brazil’s foreign aid agency—a country that only recently has begun to provide foreign aid to poorer nations. Your group will choose to whom our USAID Administrator will speak. Choose one bilateral discussion, only. Your bilateral partner must be a donor state. In other words, you cannot choose a country like Fiji—which does not provide foreign aid.
For a list of countries that provide foreign aid, refer to the OECD-DAC website for its member-states. Each member-state is a foreign aid donor. Other states not part of that list that are also donors include South Africa, Cuba, Brazil, China, among a few others. If you wish to choose a state not on the OECD- DAC list or one of the countries that I have listed, please check with me first.
Task 1 (as a group): Choose which country will be your bilateral partner. You cannot write your own individual talking points until you have chosen a country.
In your bilateral discussion, imagine the USAID Administrator desiring to make five points with his development counterpart. Generally, these points will be written in order of importance for the USAID Administrator. Depending on the flow of conversation, your leader may not mentioned them in that order … but I still need you to prioritize your wishes and to write what you think the USAID Administrator should seek first.
Talking points may be an “active ask” for something, e.g. “The U.S. government desires a more proactive stance by your Iran colleagues on the issue of nuclear arms control. In particular, we believe that your Ministry of Energy should discourage its nuclear scientists from pursuing X, Y, and Z. We believe your pursuit of such objectives undermines our ability to assess your progress toward a mutually agreeable solution to our talks.”
Talking points may also be a compliment, e.g. “I wish to convey my government’s appreciation that you have convinced the Ayatollah and the Assembly of Experts to continue their support of our negotiations.”
Talking points may also be more “aggressive” (but in a diplomatic way), e.g. “My government has noted that there have been instances within Tehran’s mosques whereby … X, Y, Z.”
The balance that you wish to strike among these options (and more) is up to your team. Do keep in mind that while conversations full of niceties are important and can help deepen bilateral relations, this week is about aid effectiveness and moving this agenda forward. So be prepared to devote the majority of your five talking points to specific asks, actions, wishes, observations, and so on.
Finally, here are a few “talking point” websites1 that may help:
“lobbying” but more for how this example organizes its thoughts, its headers, and so on, see:
1 Note: There are other talking points examples out there. This example (www.asbmb.org/uploadedfiles/advocacy/talking_points.pdf) is good if you want to lobby someone. But that is not what we are doing in our case. You are preparing the USAID Administrator to have a conversation with his or her counterpart in another country. You are not trying to “sell” (like in the lobbying example) but rather to state the U.S. position on issues at hand.
I chose this article because the author provides an historical account of how the Busan Partnership for Effective Development Cooperation was developed and adopted. Hayman, R. (2012).
Must use this source