You've been asked to give a speech. 

Perhaps you're expert in some topic, or you've headed up some organization, or you've done something wonderful recently, or you’ve made the news.  You've got an occasion, an audience, and an opportunity. 

How do you decide what to say?  How do you pick a topic and narrow it down?

Here's where it gets ironic.  You've been called upon because of something you possess, but what audiences really want to hear about is — wait for it — themselves. 

If you don't spend a third to a half of the speech talking about the audience's problems, your best efforts will fall flat.

The reason is that audiences show up to a presentation wondering why — why is this important, why should I listen, why is this relevant to me?  If you answer that question successfully, they'll start wondering how — how do I apply your insights, how do I act upon what you're saying, how do I take this experience and make it my own?

So, here's the way to think about it.  What is the problem the audience has for which your information or experience or wisdom is the solution?  If you begin by talking about that problem, you will take your audience on a journey, from why to how.  And they will trust you completely.  And they will love your speech. 

Once you've got that problem figured out, you're practically home free.  All that’s left to do is to research the audience, very, very thoroughly.  Find out who they are, what they’re thinking about, what their hopes and fear are, and everything else you can about them.   

Spend the first part of the speech talking about their problem, and the second part talking about your now relevant solution or expertise, and you'll be a hit every time. 

There are lots of subtleties, and they can be important, but that's the main idea.  Take your audience on a journey from why to how.  Both you and the audience will be much happier for it. 


  1. Hi, Geetesh —
    Thanks for your comment and kind words. And yes — this method of thinking works as well for impromptu speaking (as long as you know something about your audience) and in meetings of various kinds. I have seen many a consultant fail to impress because they began by saying, “Let me tell you about us…”

  2. Nick, I love this wonderful instruction. Takes the worry of “fire-hosing” folks with way too much information right out of the picture. I’ve been on both sides of that info flood and neither are any fun. Helping folks solve problems relevant to them…now that’s fun!
    Thanks so much.

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