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You hear people talk about how much they need to tell their story. It’s burning in them, this experience they had, and they’re driven to share it with the world. It’s such a relief to stop keeping it all bottled up inside.

Others are passionate about a cause. They’re out to save the world. They’re driven to change environmental policies to reduce global warming. Convince everyone the COVID vaccines are part of a government plot to control our lives. Or persuade business leaders that the office is dead and distributed work is the way to succeed from now on.

And, of course, many professionals use speaking as a marketing strategy. They’re in front of an audience to talk about their work. To make sure prospective clients, customers, and referral partners know—and care—enough to want to do business.

Where these individuals go wrong over and over again is making it all about them. Their needs. Their passions. Their information. Their opinions. 

The most successful speakers spin that spotlight around.

Instead of focusing on their own needs, masterful speakers zero in on what their listeners need.

Starting from that framework, they strive to include information that will entertain, educate, or inspire their audience. (Extra points if you can do all three.)

Look, 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.

When clients come to me wanting to speak so they can unburden themselves as a path to feeling better, I suggest that they process their feelings first. Much better for the healing to happen before they take their tale to a wider audience.

And those who are enthusiastic about 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 come to share their view.

We’ll be compelled to follow their lead, donate to their organization, vote for their candidate.

I’ve fallen into the trap of thinking if I give an audience enough information about compelling communication, they’ll see how important it is to their future. And of course, they’ll come to me for coaching.

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.

Yes, of course you have an objective when you speak, whether you’re giving a keynote speech or introducing yourself at a virtual networking meeting.  You DO want us to support or vote or donate or buy – if you didn’t want us to take some action, you wouldn’t be speaking.

How, then, 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 as you prepare for your talk, you stop and consider six things.

  • Who are these people I’m talking to? What intrigues them? What drives them? What challenges them or ticks them off?
  • What can I say about my service or product that will really mean something to this 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, distracting them from your message?
  • How can I translate my jargon to their language? Example: Unless they’re real estate agents, they don’t live in a property. They live in a house, a condo, or an apartment. So, a Realtor’s talk should use that language as opposed to “I handle residential and commercial properties.”  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. That’s what gets and keeps their attention.

  • What do I want them to think or feel or do as a result of what they hear from me?

You have some desired outcome in mind, or you wouldn’t be speaking. What is that, exactly? And how can you make that clear to your audience, so they leave with a change of heart or a plan of action?

Here’s your challenge.

Sometime in the next little while, you’re going to be speaking about your work or your passion. (If you’re lucky, they’re the same thing!)

As you think about what you’ll say to your audience, run your material through the Filter of Them and see if it changes things. And let me know what you discover in the process, will you?