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Why Start with Why?

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Mahatma Gandhi said, “My life is my message.”

The ability to transform an audience by introducing new thoughts, ideas, and concepts is an incredible gift! In fact, it’s the entire basis of the world-changing TED talk movement. But…where do you start? How do you discover the message of your talk?

Before they experience a presentation skills training, most presenters think the purpose of a talk is to provide information and data and to discuss themselves or their company/product. Unfortunately, they’ve identified the wrong purpose. They have merely identified the topic.

Surely you have suffered through a talk that you were forced to attend, where the presenter focused on facts and figures without any meaning for you. It’s likely you spent the time not listening or absorbing the information, but instead looking at your watch or your phone and wishing you were anywhere else.

So how does a speaker give this same type of information purpose? How can you make it interesting and memorable?

A meaningful talk can dig much deeper, providing a core message that creates transformation in the audience’s thinking or behavior. Also essential, it often provides solutions to a problem that is introduced.

If our goal is to transform thoughts and behavior through presentation messaging, then we must do more than simply throw out information. If you think about it…just because we give an audience data, facts, or statistics, doesn’t mean they will do anything with it when the talk is over. Just because they are looking at you doesn’t even mean they are listening. And how do you ensure they’ll remember any of the information?

Do you want people to absorb what is said, make it personal to their lives, and take action on your message? Then, it is absolutely necessary to share novel concepts, motivate, inspire, and persuade. Seth Godin, a guru in presentation messaging, explains it perfectly.

He says, “It seems to me that if you’re not wasting your time and mine, you’re here to get me to change my mind and to do something different. And, that, my friend, is selling. If you’re not trying to persuade, why are you here?”

If you want to encourage an audience to embrace change or take action, what you really need to do in your presentations is to take the audience from one place in their thinking to another. Presentation skills training veterans pinpoint the message as the answer to the questions: “Where do you want to take your audience throughout your talk?” and “How do you want them to think/act differently after your talk?”

One easy way to begin to think about the transformation you would like to create is to consider the audience’s journey. Imagine that your audience begins on a red square when they enter your talk. Now, imagine that you are going to take their hand and lead them down a path from that red square at the start to a green square at the end.

Ask yourself how you are going to lead them down that path? What are the steps you need to take in order to persuade, inspire, and motivate a change?
Identifying where the audience is in their thinking before the talk and setting a goal for where you would like audience members to arrive in their thinking after your talk is often referred to as the “Start from” and the “Go to” of the speech.

It is easy to neglect this step! A novice speaker without any presentation skills training may spend all of his or her time gathering the content and data, while omitting the essential task of stepping back and asking,

“Why am I speaking to these people and what do I want to accomplish with them?”

Simon Sinek explained this idea in his bestselling book (and TED talk) Start with Why.

Sinek states that most companies can answer what they do and how they do it, but the innovative and successful companies (like Apple) answer the question of why they exist.

Although starting with what is much easier, it won’t get you to the heart of your message. Most presenters focus only on the what (information and data) and then spend some time on the how (usually slides filled with bullet points). Typically, almost no time is spent on the essential why?

The why is where you should start all presentations. Why does your topic and opinion matter? Why is it important for the audience? When you’re clear on why your idea matters and why it should matter to the audience, you’ll finally be able to identify your core message.

And without a purpose, why would you even put yourself through the hassle of writing, memorizing, and stepping up in front of a crowd to deliver a speech? What is motivating you to speak to this particular group of people?

Tapping into your core to find your own purpose in sharing will not only give you a unique spin on your story, but it will also help you to command the room with genuine purpose and power. Only by finding and sharing your own “why” can you deliver your speech in a believable and authentic way.

In our presentation skills training, we share a very straightforward method that you can use in order to design a purpose:

Use an infinitive phrase and make it active.

Here are some examples…

“To motivate the sales team to brainstorm a team approach on identifying new leads.”

“To demonstrate the new software to this group and test them on using it.”

“To teach and critique the new Deputy Chiefs of Mission at our embassies in handling challenges when giving media interviews.”

In this spirit, ask yourself: Why does my talk matter? Why should the audience care? And why is it important for me to share? When you’re clear on the why, you’ve identified your unique and authentic message.

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Speak with MOXIE eBook: Your Guide to Powerful Presentations and Performances

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