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The Most Powerful Question To Ask When Prepping For A Speech Or Presentation

Career

In one of our leadership communication programs, my team and I were coaching the sales managers of a financial institution

I was helping one particular mid-level manager prepare for an upcoming sales call when I asked her: "Why do you do what you do?"

She responded: “Well, I like serving others."

“Why?", I asked.

“Because service is important to me." Me again: “Why?"

“Because that's what my parents taught me."

“Tell me more."

“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."

A-hah!

It may seem surprising, but sometimes we get so caught up in our work and our busy day that, when put on the spot, we're left digging for answers to basic questions like why we do the things we do. And while you might think you have the answer, as seen with my client, it can be tough to get past the generic answer to arrive at the underlying drivers of our behaviors.

But getting to that deeper truth is a critical step if you're preparing to speak publicly, because Why you? is the single most powerful question you can ask yourself when preparing a speech or presentation. It's one of the best tools for commanding rooms and influencing others. 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.

Whether you're a regular speaker within your workplace or you're preparing to give your first company-wide presentation, centering on your answer to Why you? will provide the following advantages:

It helps you choose language that is authentic to you. It's hard to sound authentic when you are parroting corporate jargon. Why you? brings out your natural language and makes your speech more genuine.

It animates your body and voice. Body language and vocal tone will complement your words. When you truly believe in your message, that sense of purpose naturally animates your body and voice.

It builds your confidence. Both young professionals and seasoned executives will confess to a lack of confidence when speaking. What if others in the room know more than I do? What if the audience is questioning my authority to speak? Connecting with your Why you? reinforces your credibility and your authority.

It helps you connect to your audience on a personal level and build trust. 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 you build trust.

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. Using that story, the prospect might think “Yes, this person understands where I am coming from. I can trust this person."

Take a moment right now and consider:

What gets you out of bed in the morning? What made you choose your line of work? What made you volunteer for this particular cause? Why do you do what you do?

It's not “So I can make more money" or “So I can get promoted" or “So I can look good in front of my boss." It's deeper than that. And you might have to ask yourself this question repeatedly to get the underlying answer.

If your response to Why you? has something to do with family, you might be on the right path. You'll notice a lot of the Why you? comes back to family and early childhood. In another training program, one woman got straight to the point when she said “My father sold insurance, and every day he came home happy. When it was time to choose a career, I chose to follow in his footsteps. That's why I do what I do."

If you're struggling to find an answer to Why you? that feels authentic while also sticking to your goals for the speech, consider the following questions: Why do you care about your audience or about the occasion of the speech? Why do you care about your subject or your organization? What are you proud of in your work?

One word of warning: be prepared to embrace the authentic answer to this question. Sometimes Why you? has ramifications that will follow you well beyond a speaking event.

For example, I remember coaching a man who worked in real estate development. I knew this 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 actually, he was. So we worked through a few critical questions, and when we arrived at Why you? he came to a startling realization. I asked him why he was passionate about his work. It turns 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 if you hate your job, it's going to be very difficult to give a powerful, authentic speech. And in those cases, you do 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. So instead of searching for what you're passionate about, think about what you like about your work.

The final question I always hear in relation to Why you? is: “How will I know when I've found the right answer?" This turns out to the be simplest part of the process. You'll know, because you'll feel it and think “Yes, that's the thing I'm looking for."

Once you've identified your Why You?, you can move on to the other two questions I coach all speakers to consider: “Who is your audience?" and “What is your goal?". These questions also provide you with information that should shape the content of your speech. Select content that will resonate with your audience and steer the speech in a direction that connects to your ultimate goal. If you keep all three questions in mind, answer them honestly, and use those answers to inform your speech preparation, you'll give an impactful presentation. Your Why You? is the key.

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Business

My Untold Story Of Inventing the Sports Bra And How it Changed the World (And Me)

Following are excerpts from "Unleash the Girls, The Untold Story of the Invention of the Sports Bra and How It Changed the World (And Me)" By Lisa Z. Lindahl


There is an idea that has popped up everywhere from Chaos Theory to Science Fiction and New Age memes known popularly as the "Butterfly Effect." Simply put, it is the notion that one very small thing—the movement of a butterfly's wing say, or the ripple in a lake caused by a pebble being thrown into it—can cause tremendous effect far away: the butterfly's wing a tornado, the ripple a large wave on a distant shore. Cause and effect, does it have limits? The field of physics is telling us that it takes only observation to bring a thing into being. We cannot consider these areas of investigation and not acknowledge that everything—everything—is in relationship in some way or another with everything else.

So, it is evident to me that commerce of any kind is, also, just about relationships. It all boils down, on every level to this simplicity. While we usually think of relationships as occurring between people—it is far more than that.

I used to teach a course in entrepreneurship specifically for women in The Women's Small Business Program at Trinity College in Burlington, Vermont. I made this concept of relationship and its importance central in how I taught the marketing thought process. I would stress that for a product or service to be successful, it had to meet a perceived need. There is a need, and it wants to be met; or it may be thought of as a problem to be solved. Or there may be an existing solution that is less than adequate.

For example: In my universe as a runner there already were a plethora of bras available, but they were inadequate for my purpose. The relationship between my breasts, my running body, and my bra was creating discomfort and distraction. A new solution had to be found, the relationship occurring when all these things came together had to be fixed. Utilizing this point of view, one sees a set of issues that need to be addressed—they are in relationship with each other and their environment in a way that needs to be changed, adjusted.

Nowhere is this viewpoint truer than in business, as we enter into more and more relationships with people to address all the needs of the organization. Whether designing a product or a service or communicating with others about it—we are in relationship. And meanwhile, how about maintaining a healthy relationship with ourselves? All the issues we know about stress in the workplace can boil down to an internal balancing act around our relationships: to the work itself, to those we work with, to home life, friends and lovers. So quickly those ripples can become waves.

Because Jogbra was growing so quickly, relationships were being discovered, created, ending, expanding and changing at a pace that makes my head spin to recall. And truly challenged my spirit. Not to mention how I handled dealing with my seizure disorder.

"My Lifelong Partner"

Let me tell you a bit about my old friend, Epilepsy. Having Epilepsy does not make any sort of money-making endeavor easy or reliable, yet it is my other "partner" in life. Husbands and business partners have come and gone, but Epilepsy has always been with me. It was my first experience of having a "shadow teacher."

While a child who isn't feeling she has power over her world may have a tantrum, as we grow older, most of us find other more subtle ways to express our powerfulness or powerlessness. We adapt, learn coping mechanisms, how to persuade, manipulate, or capitulate when necessary. These tools, these learned adaptations, give a sense of control. They make us feel more in charge of our destiny. As a result, our maturing self generally feels indestructible, immortal. Life is a long, golden road of futures for the young.

This was not the case for me. I learned very early on when I started having seizures that I was not fully in charge of the world, my world, specifically of my body. There are many different types of epileptic seizures. Often a person with the illness may have more than one type. That has been the case for me. I was diagnosed with Epilepsy—with a seizure type now referred to as "Absence seizures"—when I was four years old. I have seen neurologists and taken medications ever since. As often happens, the condition worsened when I entered puberty and I started having convulsions as well—what most people think of when they think of epileptic seizures. The clinical name is generalized "Tonic-clonic" seizures.

In such a seizure the entire brain is involved, rather like an electrical circuit that has gone out as a result of a power surge. I lose consciousness, my whole body becomes rigid, the muscles start jerking uncontrollably, and I fall. Tonic-clonic seizures, also known as "grand mal" seizures, may or may not be preceded by an aura, a type of perceptual disturbance, which for me can act as a warning of what is coming. The seizure usually only lasts for a few minutes, but I feel its draining effects for a day or two afterwards. Although I would prefer to sleep all day after such a physically and emotionally taxing event, I have often just gotten up off the floor and, within hours, gone back to work. It was necessary sometimes, though definitely not medically advised. I'm fond of saying that having a grand mal seizure is rather like being struck by a Mack truck and living to tell the tale.

Having Epilepsy has forced me to be dependent on others throughout my life. While we are all dependent upon others to some degree—independent, interdependent, dependent—in my case a deep level of dependency was decreed and ingrained very early on. This enforced dependency did not sit well with my native self. I bucked and rebelled. At the same time, a part of me also feared the next fall, the next post-convulsive fugue. And so I recognized, I acquiesced to the need to depend on others.

The silver lining of having Epilepsy is that it has introduced me to and taught me a bit about the nature of being powerless—and experiencing betrayal. I could not trust that my body would always operate as it should. Routinely, it suddenly quits. I experience this as betrayal by my brain and body. It results in my complete powerlessness throughout the convulsion. Not to mention an inconvenient interruption of any activities or plans I might have made.

Hence, I am the recipient of two important life lessons—and I was blessed to have this very specific and graphic experience at a young age. It made me observant and reflective, giving me the opportunity to consider what/where/who "I" was. I knew I was not "just" my body, or even my brain.

So, who or what did that leave? Who, what am I? Much has been written about trauma, and about near-death experiences, both of which seizures have been classified or described as. I won't delve into that here except to say that experiencing recurrent seizures and the attendant altered states of consciousness that sometimes accompany an episode (the euphemism for a seizure) changes one. It deeply affects you. It is both illuminating and frightening. It opens you up in some ways and can close you way down in others. For me it made it easy to consider the possibility of other ways to perceive, of other realms. And as an adult I became interested in quantum physics, where Science is pushing and challenging our long-held perceptual assumptions. Me, who was poor in math and disinterested in Science while in school! So if not merely body and brain, who am I? Spirit. And with Epilepsy's tutelage, I was encouraged to question, seek, try to understand what lies beyond.

Living with Epilepsy has also given me great strength. In realizing the futile nature of trying to have "power over" Epilepsy, I developed a deep well of "power within"—that inner strength that comes in the acceptance of that which one cannot change—and looking beyond it.

Through my experience building the business of Jogbra with the unique lens afforded me by my Epilepsy partner, I came to understand more fully the nature of power and what it means to be truly powerful.

Specifically, that having power and exercising it is not simply a manifestation of the ego. It need not be "power-tripping." It is how I wield my power that matters, making the all-important distinction between creating a situation of power over, power with, or empowering and having and creating strength in oneself and others.

Being powerful is a big responsibility.

To put all this another way: do I choose to create situations in which I am able to wield power over others? Or do I choose to empower others, sharing my strengths with them, while nurturing their strengths as well? The first is not true power. It is control. The second I believe to be the essence of true and positive power: strength. And integral to creating a more harmonious world, oh by the way.

While this may be apparent, even basic to others, it was an "aha!" moment for me. Too often in the years ahead I would give away my power and question my own strengths,. Time and again, however, my inner strength, my shadow teacher's gift, helped me survive and thrive until I could take responsibility for and embrace more fully my own power.

© Lisa Z. Lindahl 2019