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  • Bruce Rule

When Public Speaking Ask Yourself What’s in It for Them?

"Rule Communications" "Bruce Rule"
Always ask, "What's In It For Them?"

Preparation is key to effective public speaking, and you need to spend a good deal of time thinking about your presentation before you begin actually putting it together. As I explained in previous posts, you first must find out as much as you can about your audience (see here and here) and then you must decide what your main point is going to be (see here).


Then you must tailor your presentation to answer this question about your audience: What’s in it for them? (You will sometimes see the acronym WIIFM, for What’s IN It For Me? It’s the same idea.)


Listeners in your audience will want to know why they should be investing their time listening to you, and you better make it worth their while. If audience members don’t understand why they should care about what you say you will have a hard time keeping their attention. Worse, they may tune out so much that they miss the point you want to make.  


Your goal when presenting is to marry the main point you want to make to what is in it for your audience.


Let’s look at an example. You are going to pitch a new project proposal to senior management. The main point of the presentation is to get approval to proceed.


You really want this project to go forward because it will do wonders for your career in terms of exposure, responsibility and, likely, compensation. Should you focus on those things? No. You probably shouldn’t even mention the benefits the project would have for you. Your audience is not going to care about any of that.


The thrust of your presentation needs to be the reasons why approval would be good for senior management. Would the project be a new source of revenue? How much is it likely to generate? Would it cut costs? By how much? Would it bring prestige or increased exposure to the company (and therefore, to senior management)?


Those are the questions you consider answering in your presentation.


Broad Self-Interest

Keep in mind that your appeal may be to a broader self-interest rather than a specific one for each audience member. Say, for instance, your presentation is about the diversity initiatives in your workplace. A listener who identifies has a minority would have a direct self-interest in learning about that. But what if your audience was made up of mostly white male executives?  In that situation, you might appeal to a broader self-interest. For instance, you might want to emphasize that companies with diversity initiatives are seen as positive role models by the public, appealing to the male executives pride and ego.


Sometimes, the answer to “What’s in It for Them?” is more general or informative. Say you have been tasked to explain new compliance policies to every department in the company. Your main point is that these policies must be followed. For those departments that are affected by the policies, you would focus on how it would be beneficial for them to follow the policies (and detrimental to them if they don’t). But what about departments where the policies won’t have an impact? What’s in it for them? You could use the presentation to reassure them that the company is keeping up with all compliance demands so that it will remain in good standing (i.e., “your jobs will be safe.”) The details of the policies may not stick with your audiences in those departments, but they will leave knowing there are policies and that the company is on top of its compliance obligations.   


Icebreaker Question


Depending on the topic, you can even use the “What’s In It for Me?” question to start your presentation.  Like so:

·      “You may be asking yourself, what does this project mean for my job?”

·      “You may ask, why should I care about topic X?”

·      “You may be asking, how do the changes in the company affect me?”


Let’s wrap this topic up with a personal example. A while back I used to run two different public-speaking workshops at a company. One was a daylong workshop and the other was two days. Workers would regularly ask me which workshop they should take. Of course, I wanted everyone to take the two-day workshop (Double the money! Less setup time!). So my main point was to persuade them to sign up for the two-day workshop, but my pitch never included the benefits the longer workshop had for me.


I focused on the benefits that the two-day workshop offered to the worker. With the two-day workshop, the participant would get up and speak before the class twice as many times, and the more practice they got the more feedback I could give them. Also with the two-day workshop, their presentations were videotaped so we could watch them together and I could point out specifics. And they got to keep a copy of their presentations to take home to study later.


Not a word about how the two-day workshop benefited me. It was all about “What’s in It for Them?”




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