An aspiring speaker told me recently he took to the stage in the first place because he desperately needs to tell his story. It’s a sad story, albeit one that ends on an upbeat note. It’s also a compelling story that could generate a lot of interest. But that’s not the point, is it?

A woman on a mission working on an upcoming talk explained that she has trouble sticking to the time she’s given to speak because, she said, “I have so much information I need to share.”

You might be familiar with the feeling. You have an opportunity to talk and you don’t want to waste a minute. You cram your speaking time with content; you think if they just understand how important it is, they’ll buy. Or buy in to your idea.

Time to take a step back.

The mistake these folks have been making is making it all about them. Their needs. Their information. Their agenda.

Successful speakers spin that around. Instead of focusing on their own needs, they emphasize what their listeners need. They strive to include information that will educate or entertain their audience (or, ideally, both).

all about meLook, people with tragic pasts sometimes do feel driven to talk about it; it’s completely understandable. And the place for that is a therapist’s office or support group. They need to process their feelings first. The healing has to happen before they take their tale to a wider audience.

And those who are enthusiastic about a company or a cause or a candidate often get the mistaken notion that if they just tell us enough about the reasons for their passion, we’ll naturally share that passion. We’ll be compelled to buy their product, donate to their organization, vote for their guy. Or gal.

The reality is: when we feel bombarded with information, we shut down and shut out that earnest speaker who’s trying so hard to enlist our support. When we sense a speaker crossing boundaries or venting their emotions for their own sake, it makes us uncomfortable and we pull back instead of leaning in.

So. Of course you have an objective when you speak, whether it’s a keynote speech or a brief introduction at a networking meeting. You DO want us to buy or donate or support or vote – you want us to take some action or you wouldn’t be speaking.

How do you reconcile your appropriate desire to influence your audience with what I just said about focusing on their needs rather than yours?

Try this. Run everything you’re going to say about you through the filter of them.

That means you stop and think about 6 things.

  • Who are the people I’m talking to? What fascinates them? What drives them? What ticks them off?
  • What can I say about my service that will really mean something to my audience? Here’s a hint. It will be about the results people get from your work, not about the process you follow.
  • How much information can they take in, given the time we have? (The answer is almost always less than you think.) And what else is competing for their attention?
  • How can I translate my jargon to their language? Example: unless they’re real estate agents, they don’t live in a residential property. They live in a house or a home or a condo. So a Realtor’s talk should use that language as opposed to “residential and commercial property.” Same thing is true for you, whatever field you’re in.
  • Where can I replace the word “I” with the word “you?” This can be as simple as dropping phrases like “I want to tell you” in favor of, “You’re about to discover.” Notice that the focus shifts from what you want (they don’t care!) to what they’re going to get.
  • What do I want them to think or feel or do as a result of what they hear from me?

Here’s your challenge. Sometime in the next week, you’re going to be speaking about your work or your passion (if you’re lucky, they’re the same thing).

Try running your material through the Filter of Them and see how it changes things. And let me know what you discover in the process, will you?