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  • Writer's pictureBarbara Mayfield, MS, RDN, LD, FAND

What makes a message compelling?

Updated: Jun 5, 2023

qualities of compelling messages

What does it take to be compelling?

To compel means to bring about something forcefully, but to be compelling has a much more desirable connotation. Synonyms include being persuasive, convincing, and irresistible.

These are qualities that bring about a desired result without external pressure. Rather than being coerced into thinking, feeling, or doing a certain thing, a compelling message inspires us via internal motivators.

The message is irresistible. It is compelling.

As communicators, to be effective means our audience responds to our message in a way that achieves the desired outcome. A compelling message inspires an audience to think and feel and act. Being compelling is essential to successful communication.

I recently surveyed food and nutrition professionals about which characteristics of effective communication they needed to work on most. They listed being compelling in a tie for third place with being memorable. Listed in first and second place were being concise and clear. Read about all 10 characteristics for crafting effective messages.

What makes a message compelling?

A compelling message has ethos, pathos, and logos:

Aristotle taught more than 2,000 years ago that to be persuasive three qualities were required: ethos, pathos, and logos.

  • Ethos is the credibility of the message and the communicator.

  • Pathos is the emotional appeal of the message. In other words, the message must connect with the audience’s feelings.

  • Logos is presenting the message with logic and evidence.

Check your messages against these three criteria.

A compelling message is audience-centered:

A compelling message resonates with the audience’s values and beliefs. It is designed to help the audience solve their problems, achieve their goals and dreams, and meet their needs. It uses words and explanations the audience understands and finds relatable.

When a message is created with and for an audience, the audience will be compelled to attend to it, receive and understand it, and take action.

A compelling message is aspirational yet attainable:

The challenge of acquiring knowledge and changing wrong or negative thoughts, attitudes, and behaviors is more compelling when the audience is both inspired to make the change and has the self-efficacy to believe they can.

If an audience doesn’t feel equipped and empowered to take action, they won’t. People fear failure and avoid trying if that fear cannot be overcome. Achieving positive results and avoiding negative consequences must be presented as realistic and sustainable. Effective messages tell both why to do something and how to do it.

4 Qualities of a compelling message

The stones in the photo illustrate some of the qualities of a compelling message.

  • A compelling message addresses an audience’s dreams, as well as their desires, concerns, and questions.

  • A compelling message inspires an audience to achieve those dreams, solve those problems or answer those questions.

  • A compelling message empowers the audience to have the courage to take action and make changes.

  • A compelling message may challenge an audience’s thinking but it will ultimately be in harmony with an audience’s values and convictions.

Bring to mind a message you read or heard today. Was it compelling? Did it persuade you to take action? What made it compelling?

How can you make your messages more compelling? Which characteristics of compelling messages do you need to put into practice?

“Create a compelling vision, one that takes people to a new place, and then translate that vision into a reality.”

~ Warren Bennis

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