Why you? Why me?
A common refrain from many potential speakers is:
‘I don’t know what to talk about!’
And simply giving the answer, ‘You can talk about anything!’ may not seem very helpful at first glance!
However the truth is there is no ideal subject matter.
Under the right circumstances any subject can be made engaging, but equally, if approached incorrectly, any subject can also be made very dull.
It is not the subject itself, rather it is how we speak about the subject that either engages or repels an audience.
Happily there is a pair of simple questions we can use that are of enormous guiding value as we prepare our presentations - and as long as we continually refer back to them we can be sure we are creating a presentation that will fully engage our listeners, because we will be taking steps to ensure we are talking
(i) from a perspective that will make the presentation unique to us while at the same time
(ii) offering a message that is engaging to them.
In short form the 2 guiding questions are:
‘Why you?’ and ‘Why me?’,
which means viewing your presentation from the audience’s perspective and asking yourself as if from from their point of view:
‘Why should I listen to you?’ and ‘How is this relevant to me?’
Your audience will always relate what they hear back to themselves and if it seems relevant and is coming from a credible source they will feel motivated to continue to engage with you.
If they either doubt your authority on the subject or do not see how it relates to them, they will no longer be engaged.
And of course if your presentation fails on both fronts, then you really are in trouble.!
For example, if I intend to offer insights on the struggles of being a single parent on a minimum wage trying to bring up 3 children without any outside support, you are much more likely to value my insights if I am, or have been, all three of those things, or at the very least if I am intimately acquainted with someone in that situation.
Otherwise, my perspective is likely to seem speculative, second hand or just unsubstantiated theory.
If I am merely relaying something I have read or heard I can just as easily give you the book or refer you to the article and you would get the same value.
The reason you need to listen to me is that I have a unique first-hand perspective.
We cannot fully know what it means to be a woman walking home alone at night unless you are a woman who has walked home alone at night.
We cannot fully comprehend the enormity of taking a penalty in the last minutes of a champion’s league final unless you have taken a penalty in the last minutes of a champion’s league final.
If you are a man walking home at night, you might be able to empathise or identify, but your testimony will never be as powerful.
Equally, you may have only taken a penalty in an important youth final, so you can at least begin to imagine what it is like, but you do not have that fully focused first-hand knowledge.
Whenever the listener feels they are learning from genuine first-hand experience, even if they already have some knowledge of the subject, at the very least they are guaranteed to learn something unique, personal and new by listening to you.
Therefore, possibly the most powerful testimony a presenter can give comes from the perspective of:
‘I do know what I am talking about because I have been there’.
News programmes will send a reporter directly to the scene, because speaking first-hand adds weight to their words and then, to back that up further, they may introduce an eye witness or an industry expert to offer further informed comment.
An eyewitness or a victim of an event will offer their first-hand experience, and we are more likely to identify with them as ‘that is not a reporter removed from the situation. That is a person just like me!’
However, significant as that is, first-hand knowledge or experience is still only half of the equation because their words will still have limited impact unless the listener can see how this affects ‘me’.
A basic storytelling maxim says:
‘As I listen to you I am thinking about me.’
You may have a very powerful message backed up by first-hand experience, but unless that message somehow touches me, I am unlikely to be moved.
‘I have never walked home alone and don’t see the problem.’
‘I have never played football and never want to.’
It is up to the presenter to create that relevance.
‘OK – you may not have had to walk home alone, but can you relate to a situation where you have felt very alone, vulnerable and threatened?’
‘I know you may have no interest in football, but have you ever had to perform under immense pressure?’
I remember working with a young student who said he wanted to deliver a speech on ‘Bullying!’
So we did the ‘Why you? Why me? Test on his subject.
1. Why you?
I asked him
‘Have you ever been bullied or have you ever bullied anyone?
Or do you know someone close to you who has?’
If the answer is ‘No’, then the first-hand experience that lends credibility and weight to your words is missing. Why should we listen to you?
2. Why me?
This requires some understanding of your audience.
If members of your audience have been bullied or know someone who is being bullied, they are already more likely to be engaged by the subject.
If they have no interest, no experience or even, no sympathy for victims of bullying, no amount of personal testimony from the speaker is going to engage them.
We may need to broaden or redefine what we mean by ‘Bullying’,
because they need to see how it is relevant to them.
When we work as presenters, trainers, or managers, the same rules apply.
Our audience is wondering:
What experience or qualifications do you have?
What right do you have to stand before me?
And then they are thinking
How does this affect me?
How is this relevant to my job or my situation?
In conclusion – a very simple test of any presentation, any training programme, or any speech is to keep asking yourself 2 simple questions:
‘Why you?’ and ‘Why me?’
If you can establish your credibility and then capture my interest, you now have the subject matter to make a successful presentation.