'WHY speak it all?'

By Peter Roper, Fellow and Past President of the Professional Speaking Association


Sometimes when I’m talking, my words can’t keep up with my thoughts. I wonder why we think faster than we speak.. Probably so we can think twice.” Bill Watterson

Have you ever been in a situation where your boss has come up to you and asked you to make a presentation, but you never knew why? Were you on the verge of panicking? Did words appear in your head that aren’t repeatable? It’s certainly happened to me on occasions.

Why stand up and speak?

My simple suggestion to you is this – if someone asks you to stand up and speak on any subject from 30 seconds to a couple of hours, ask yourself the question ‘Why?’ Or perhaps if you’re employed, ask the person asking you to speak ‘Why?

Here is my advice: if you can’t answer the question ‘Why?’ whatever you do, don’t agree to speak! Just don’t do it!

If you don’t know why you’re standing up to speak in the first place, is it fair to say that the audience probably won’t understand why you’re talking to them either? Because if you don’t know, you can be sure that they won’t know!

People sometimes say to me, “Oh, you mean the point of the speech?”

No, it’s nothing to do with the point of the speech… this is about you as an individual. What is driving you to stand up?

The six serving men of Rudyard Kipling – who, what, when, where, why, and how – are very useful words, and why is the most powerful.

Ask yourself the following questions:

• What’s in it for the audience?
• What’s in it for you?
• What are the benefits to the audience to listen to you?
• Understand why you have been asked to speak
• Understand why they chose you

Think about the answers to these questions.

What’s in it for the audience?

Yes, there is the issue of purpose, we’ve already talked about that – in relation to the presentation itself – but what can you add to this presentation?

The secret is to know what you offer the audience. What will they get if you make this presentation that they wouldn’t get from anyone else?

Once you’re clear about that you should be able to answer the second question.

What’s in it for you?

What will you gain from making the presentation? If the answer is ‘nothing’, then don’t do it. Say “thank you for asking” and suggest someone else who would be suitable.

If your job depends on it, then you might want to ask the person making the request what the benefits for your career progression will be.

Having said this, there is usually something for you in any presentation you make. We all learn from doing things, we learn what works and what doesn’t. We learn how to present information in a way that engages our audiences and we hone our skills as speakers, so don’t just write off a presentation as being ‘of no use at all’.

If you want to get something from it, you’ll find something of value to you.

What are the benefits to the audience to listen to you?

Think about what your knowledge will give the audience. Be specific! What benefits can you offer them that they won’t get any other way?

This is an extension of the first question, but you really need to pin down the detail here.

Imagine you’re sitting in the audience yourself. What would make you feel that sitting still for this presentation had been really worth it?

This might include specific facts that you can give them; it might be the ability to explain a particularly complex concept in simple language; it might be that you can tell a story that will help them to remember critical information better; it might be – well, you know your own skills – what else might they get from listening to you?

Understand why you have been asked to speak

If you’ve asked the person who has suggested that you should make this presentation, you may have already got the answer to this. Although it may not be all of the answer!

There are many reasons why people are asked to make presentations.

• It could be that you have a particularly good voice to listen to (although that alone is not a good enough reason for you to agree to make a presentation).

• It may be that you have a particular bank of knowledge that will ensure that the audience get more from the presentation than if someone less knowledgeable were to make it (that’s a good reason).

• It might be because you have a particular role or status in your organisation that will lend credibility to the message (this might be a good reason if you have the relevant knowledge as well).

• It might be because you are someone that people respect and listen to (again, not a good enough reason on its own, but alongside sufficient knowledge, could be added value).

• It may be because someone feels that if you are not asked you will be upset or angry.

I’m sure you can come up with lots more reasons why people are asked to make presentations – not all of them valid.

The question is do you think that the reason for you being asked to speak is a good one? Can you see why you would be a good choice for this presentation?

If you can’t, maybe you need to ask some more questions.

Understand why you!

This may seem to be the same question as the last one – but it isn’t! Understanding why someone else has asked you to speak is only half of it. You need to understand that they are right.

Once you’ve found out the reason behind the request, can you accept that the reason is a good one? Does it make sense to you that you should make this presentation?

If you still don’t see that you are the right person to make this presentation then you really ought to say ‘No’.

If you have doubts, your audience will quickly sense that and it will devalue your presentation. Better not to make a presentation than to make a poor one.

My favourite speaker is typically a charity coordinator, who works with their charity as a volunteer because they’re passionate about the cause. They probably also have a day job.

The end to this story is that, after they have been scared to death facing their number two fear, they sit back down next to someone who will always say, “Thanks for taking the time to come and see us – I don’t know how you speak
in front of all these people I’m sure I could never do it.”

…and then they hear the magic words,

“But it’s clear to me you are passionate about the charity and care for the people it serves.”

You see it doesn’t matter how technically good you are – it’s all about why you’re speaking. The audience will support and respect you if it’s clear you believe in what you’re saying and you have their interests at heart…

Five simple tips to help you understand ‘why you?’

1. Don’t skimp on this part of the process – take the time you need.

2. When you understand, ask others to say what they think but be careful whom you choose.

3. Recognise your passions are not always as strong in others. Accept where people are at.

4. If you use emotive words to describe your ‘why’ – live them. You can only be passionate, or not. You can’t be ‘quite passionate’.

5. Don’t underestimate yourself. If you believe it’s worth speaking about, it probably is!

So Tool Number One is to understand why you’re being asked to speak and why you’re the right person to speak.

The second edition of ‘…and Death Came Third! The Definitive Guide to Networking and Speaking in Public’ is published on May 11th by Ecademy Press. You can purchase your copy on Amazon

A Fellow and Past President of the Professional Speaking Association, Peter is claimed by many to be the UK’s leading expert in ‘Natural Presentation’. He has presented to well over 400,000 people internationally and for a wealth of different organisations. Peter specialises in working with both individuals and organisations to enhance and enrich business development skills.

Based in rural Shropshire, Peter is the “Honorary Chairman” of the family business Positive Ground Ltd. Visit: www.positiveground.co.uk

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