Simplifying your message can pay big dividends when building your personal brand and communicating your ideas.

The simpler your message, the easier it will be for others to understand your brand and remember your ideas. This strengthens your brand and increases your impact and control over events.

Short lists, for example, are far more effective than long lists for sharing your message and making it easy to remember.

This is especially true if you are trying to persuade others (i.e., clients, prospects, co-workers, superiors, etc.) to follow your advice and take favorable action on your ideas.

Here are two examples of famous list-based speeches–one that succeeded, one that failed–that illustrate the importance of simple, concise personal branding messages.

FDR’s Four Freedoms

One of the best examples of a short, effective list is Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms speech which formed the basis of his 1941 State of the Union Address.

The Four Freedoms outlined goals that should be available to citizens living “anywhere in the world.”

As you can see from the illustration above, when a list contains only four items, it’s relatively easy to understand and remember them.

Scan the list, and put it aside for a moment, or two. A few minutes later, you’ll probably be able to recall 2 or 3 of the items in the list.

FDR’s Four Freedoms speech helped break the back of the isolation policy that had governed America since the end of World War One. It helped America take steps to prepare for the war that came 11 months later.

It also paved the ground for the establishment of United Nations, which helped defused world tensions for over 50 years.

The Four Freedoms also created a lasting personal brand for Roosevelt that is forever associated with his name.

Woodrow Wilson’s Fourteen Points

By way of contrast, consider Woodrow Wilson’s Fourteen Points speech in 1918 where he described his proposed ideas for the coming peace treaty ending the First World War.

Again, scan the graphic of Wilson’s Fourteen Points, above, then set it aside for a moment or two. Jot down as many of the ideas as you can remember. How many did you remember?

The problem, as you’ve probably found, is that 14 is a relatively large number of points to remember.

In addition, the detailed nature of the Fourteen Points makes it harder to summarize and concisely state each point. Compare:

  • Freedom of Worship
  • Self-determination for the Ottoman Empire

A lot of the Four Freedom’s success is based on the general nature of the individual freedoms, which permits broad, concise generalizations.

However, Wilson’s Fourteen Points is cluttered by specific details for specific nations, i.e., Austria-Hungary, Belgium, Italy, Ottoman Empire, as well as different goals for different geographic areas, i.e., Balkan States, French territories, etc.

The combination of broad generalizations, i.e., free trade, and detailed goals for specific nations, make it difficult to remember what’s included in Wilson’s Fourteen

Inviting opposition

Another benefit of simplifying your message is that short lists reduce opportunities for opponents to find fault with your ideas.

Whereas it’s hard to be against goals like “Freedom from hunger,” each of Wilson’s detailed Fourteen Points acts as a lightning rod polarizing discontent with not only the particular point, but marshaling objections to the whole program.

In the end, the Fourteen Points failed both Wilson’s goal for the post-World War One period and lead to his failed presidential legacy.

Which message does your brand resemble?

Take a moment to audit your personal brand and your key branding messages:

  1. List the ideas you are currently communicating in your personal brand building. Review your core values described in your “about” pages and social media profiles, or ask an impartial observer to review your important branding.
  2. How do your marketing messages compare to the attributes you want associated with your personal brand?
  3. Which example most resembles your personal brand? Does your personal brand have more in common with Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms or Wilson’s Fourteen Points?

Tips for simplifying your personal brand

Here are some tips for simplifying your personal brand:

  • Clutter. Are you trying to communicate too many different ideas, or is your branding message focused on a few, easily-remembered ideas.
  • Organizing. Can you shorten your list by combining ideas into broader categories?
  • Relevance. Are you building your brand on ideas that are relevant to your clients, co-workers, prospects, and superiors?
  • Specificity. Are your branding messages too specific that they might provide opportunities for others to disagree with your ideas?

Auditing your brand

It’s never too soon, and it’s never too late, to audit your personal brand building. Examine the key communications of individuals with strong personal brands, like Wilson’s Fourteen Points and FDR’s Four Freedoms. Use examples like these to identify the strengths and weaknesses of your personal branding. Can you suggest other famous “lists-based” speeches that have created lasting personal brands? Please share them below, as comments.


Roger C. Parker is a writing coach who can help you communicate your brand at Published & Profitable. Ask Roger a question or suggest a topic.

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