What’s the first thing you do when preparing for a presentation or speech of significance? If you’re like most people, you think about what you want to say.

Having delivered thousands of ‘talks’ of one kind or another, and supported countless leaders with thousands more, I’ve learned that there’s a much better place to start your preparation. You can increase your impact and decrease your preparation time, by focusing on five key questions that your audience members are likely to be asking themselves about you.

1. How well do you know me?

In order to move any audience, you need to meet them where they are. You need to speak to their hopes and dreams; their fears and worries. Do this well, and you will open the possibility of bringing them to where you are.

If you want your audience to feel like you know them, the kinds of questions you should reflect on during your preparation include; what does this audience really care about? What are their immediate pressures? Where are they winning? Where are they struggling? What internal and external forces are impacting them? What will they assume I should know about them?

The answers to these questions should drive the first few minutes of your talk. Your goal is to convince your audience that you know who they are, where they are right now, where they want to be in the future, and what they must overcome to get there.

2. Why should I trust you?

Trust is a function of three things; credibility, reliability and perceived motive. In a ‘talk’ situation, we tend to rely heavily on the first two; reinforcing our expertise and past results in an effort to convince the audience that we know what we’re talking about.

Your perceived motive is far more important to your audience. They’re trying to figure out what you stand to gain from this talk, why you’re really there, and how much of the ‘real you’ they’re seeing, versus a well-rehearsed performance.

If you want your audience to trust you, you need to articulate how you intend to serve them. Key questions for you to reflect on include; why do I care so much about this topic? How does it express my purpose and values? Why am I passionate about sharing what I’ve learned? Why do I care about this audience? What do I hope to achieve by the end of this talk?

A little vulnerability on your part, goes a very long way with your audience.

3. What are you telling me?

If you’ve been asked to address an audience on a particular topic, chances are that you know more about it than any of them. This is a blessing and a curse. The more you know about your topic, relative to your audience, the more likely you are to overwhelm them.

To narrow down your content to what’s most important, key questions for you to reflect on during your preparation include; what can I assume my audience already knows? What have I learned that is contrary to popular opinion? If I could only share three critical lessons or insights, what are they? What do I want them to understand that they don’t today? What do I want them to do differently after my talk?

Your goal is to tell your audience only what they really need to know, not everything you know. If you focus on your most critical insights, you can speak less, but say a lot more.

4. Why do I care?

Just like you, your audience has scarce time, attention and energy. It makes sense that you care deeply about the content of your talk, but why should they? If you want your audience to care as much as you do, then you need to articulate some pretty compelling benefits.

Key questions for you to reflect on during your preparation include; why do I think this topic is so important for my audience? How has it changed my life for the better? What will my audience get if they apply my insights, individually and collectively? How will it help them to respond to the internal and external forces they are facing? Why do they need these insights right now?

In an organizational context, the benefits people usually care most about are accomplishing more than expected, expending less effort or resource than expected, and reaching goals faster than expected. Of course, if your insights can help your audience obtain all three benefits, then your talk will be particularly compelling.

5. How can I do what you’re telling me?

If you’ve made it this far, your audience is likely to have one big question left; can I actually do what you’re telling me to do? There are two important parts to this question; integration and agency.

Integration means that your audience can implement your insights into their professional life, and potentially into their personal life too. Key questions to reflect on during your preparation include; how easy is it for my audience to execute my insights? What are the obstacles they may need to overcome? How can they overcome them? What else do they need to know in order to execute smoothly? What additional resources and support can I offer?

Agency means that they believe they can do it. Key questions to reflect on are; why is my audience well equipped to execute these insights? Where does my confidence in my audience come from? Who else has successfully executed my insights in the past? How could I convey a sense of belief in my audience, without patronizing them?

So, in summary, knowing what you want to tell your audience only matters if they;

  • Feel that you know and respect them.
  • Trust your motive.
  • Can digest your critical insights.
  • Care about the benefits.
  • Feel they can execute effectively.

Begin your preparation for any talk by focusing on the five questions your audience is likely to be asking themselves about you, and you’ll have them with you every step of the way.

If you’re looking for some bite-sized leadership insights, inspiration and tactics in between these long-form blogs, I’m now posting daily to Instagram. You can get access by following me here.

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about PETER

For two decades, Dr. Peter Fuda has been a Sherpa to leaders, teams and organizations across the globe. He’s coached more than 200 CEOs to measurably higher levels of performance. His consulting company has delivered some 50 cases of business transformation and more than 1,000 cases of leadership transformation, at a success rate of greater than 90%.

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