“Why does this matter to me?”
Remember that time you had a meal with someone, and they spent the entire time talking about themselves? What about when you heard that Olympic gold medalist speak for an hour all about their wonderful achievements? You didn’t think it was possible to be bored listening to a national hero, and yet you found yourself checking Twitter, barely 15 minutes in.
I am sure that you have never been guilty of such clear displays of narcissism, but it’s amazing how often we subtly send the same message to our audience.
When working with people on how to effectively craft and deliver their story, I consistently see people fail to remember that they must answer one fundamental question their audience is asking. ‘Why should I care?’ or, put another way, ‘why does this matter to ME?’
This question is not unique to public speaking.
It’s the question we ask in virtually every communication interaction. And it’s why when people ask me (which happens often) ‘what is the biggest mistake you see in people’s presentations,’ I don’t talk about how people need to stop swaying or distracting me with their poor use of gestures. I don’t start with sessions on how to modulate your voice more effectively or even the horrific use of PowerPoint that makes me want to throw my Otter Box encased iPhone at your computer.
The biggest mistake is far more basic- people don’t think about their audience. They don’t answer the first question their audience is asking.
How to check yourself before you wreck yourself
The good news? There’s an easy way to determine how well you are doing, and to fix it.
Do me a favor and find an old email. Count how many times you say “I.” Now count how many times you say “you.” If you want to keep people’s attention- which you do – make sure your emails say “you” many more times than they say “I.” If the number of I’s is higher than the number of you’s- congratulations, you failed (shout out to Bob Tiede for teaching me this practical test).
This concept applies far beyond email. For instance, let’s talk about presentations. Presentations, when done well, are stories that move the audience. We all love a story told well. It’s why we watch movies, read books, and pay significant dollars to hear the first-person account of feats of courage.
And yet, a story is only as powerful as we hear ourselves in it. Often, inexperienced presenters will either:
- Make the presentation an information-filled jargon fest.
- Simply provide a chronological unfolding of the events as they experienced them.
The easy switch? Make sure every major point in your presentation includes phrases like:
- “Imagine you are…” (an easy way to make the event you experience about them)
- “While you might not ever [run an Ironman with Stage four Colon Cancer], you have to face challenges every day…”
- “Why should you care about this? Here’s why” – the easy direct approach
There’s not a story in the world compelling enough that will keep your audience off of Facebook if they don’t see themselves in it. It’s time to review the emails, re-write the speech, re-format the scheduled tweets. Replace the I’s with you’s, or you might be the only person reading about I.