The Most Powerful Question to Ask When Prepping for a Speech or Presentation: Why You?
You’re preparing to give your first company-wide presentation, and you want to make a good impression. In prepping for it, you need to ask yourself one deceptively simple question that can make or break your success: Why you?
In other words: What gets you out of bed in the morning? Why do you care about your work? What made you choose this career or industry? What are you proud of in your work?
Why you? is the single most powerful question you can ask yourself when preparing a speech or presentation. This is where you put aside the bureaucracy of your job, the politics of your cause, or the dysfunction of your office and determine the sense of purpose that guides your actions. It’s deeper than “So I can make more money” or “So I can get promoted.”
A well-chosen Why you? helps you choose language that is authentic to you. When you truly believe in your message, that sense of purpose animates your body and voice naturally. It’s hard to sound authentic when you are parroting corporate jargon.
A well-chosen Why you? also builds your confidence. Both young professionals and seasoned executives will confess to a lack of confidence when speaking. They worry that others in the room may know more than they do, or that the audience may question their authority to speak. Connecting with your Why you?, however, reinforces your credibility and your authority.
Below are some pointers for identifying your Why you? and understanding how and when to use it in order to become a more powerful speaker:
Your Why You? Can Show Your Human Side
In one of our leadership communication training programs, my team and I coach the sales managers of a financial institution. I was helping one particular manager prepare for an upcoming sales call when I asked her, “Why you? Why do you do what you do?”
She responded: “Well, I like serving others.”
“Because service is important to me.”
“Growing up, my parents ran their own business. Every single day, I saw them get up early to serve their customers, putting others’ needs before their own. I think about that experience every day when I wake up, and I want to teach that to my children as well. That’s why I do what I do.”
You’ll notice many answers to the question Why you? come back to family and early childhood. You might think it’s unprofessional to share a personal story in a business setting, but we are not robots. We are human beings doing business with other human beings. We are driven by personal motivations, and we have values that guide our actions. When you share those motivations with others, even in a business setting, you connect on a personal level and build trust.
When Your Why You? Is Impossible to Figure Out, That Tells You Something
Sometimes reasons can be hard to find. I coached someone in real estate development whom I knew was an engaged, passionate individual with a fabulous sense of humor. But as he stood up to practice a presentation to a community board, he changed completely. His shoulders slumped, his smile drooped into a grimace, and he sighed loudly while leaning on one hip and weakly gesturing at the slides behind him. He was afraid that he was a boring speaker — and he was.
So I asked him, “Why you? Why are you passionate about your work?”
It turned out he wasn’t. He hated his job. He mistrusted his boss. He didn’t like the industry. He wasn’t a boring speaker — he was just bored.
If you are bored with your subject or hate your job, it’s going to be difficult to give a powerful, authentic speech. In those cases, you have a couple of options. You can change careers, as my friend did. He wound up quitting his job and pursuing his dream to revitalize an abandoned building in his city. But maybe you have three kids to support, college bills, and a mortgage. Instead of quitting to pursue your passion, you may want think about what you do like about your work and focus on that.
Once You Know Your Why You?, Lead With It
One of the best places to include your Why you? is in the beginning of your speech or presentation. Imagine using the story about growing up in a family-owned business when you are pitching a small business prospect. That story might make the prospect think, “Yes, this person understands where I am coming from. I can trust this person.”
Don’t Forget the Power of Why You? in Job Interviews
Why you? is also an incredibly powerful question to ask before a job interview: Why is this company important to you? In what ways do you connect with its mission and values? Armed with that information, you can offer more genuine, confident, and effective answers to the interviewer’s questions.
Once crafted, your Why you? is a powerful way to start your speech or presentation. Using a personal story up front helps create a sense of connection between you and your audience, keeping them engaged and compelling them to take action.
Allison Shapira is author of Speak With Impact: How to Command the Room and Influence Others.