Three Questions I Ask All My Public Speaking Clients

By Nathan Young - Storytelling Consultant

I've been lucky enough to have coached hundreds of people for public speaking over the years. Helping a person drill down on what is most important to them and share it with an audience is one of the most gratifying things I get to do in my line of work.

Every person I coach is different. Some people come to me with a very clear idea of what they want to say and just need my help pulling it all together. Other people I’ve worked with have a vague idea or a theme they’re supposed to speak on, but otherwise don't know where to start.

No matter what the context or setting for the talk are, there are three primary thought experiments that I suggest all my clients work through in the initial stages to understand what they want to talk about. These exercises can help you understand your own head better, but also start to frame your talk in the context of a story, which is the most effective way to share your message.

Typically I suggest sitting down with this list and spending 10-15 minutes quick writing on each item and see what comes out. You might surprise yourself!

Three Important Things to Consider for Your Next Public Talk

1) What conflicts do you experience with the topic of this talk?

All good storytelling revolves around conflict. Exploring where you feel conflict with the topic of your talk can bring out a lot of important insight to go towards the heart of your story.

Suppose your talk is on management strategy. This is a realm that’s full of conflict. How do you balance the needs of individuals with the needs of business? How do you have faith in your own decision-making processes? Do you ever worry you’re doing the right thing in managing your employees?

Or suppose your talk is on something like pay-per-click (PPC) advertising. How do you keep up with the constant changes in the industry? How do you confidently measure efficacy? Do you perhaps catch yourself getting so deep in the data that you forget that it’s people you’re communicating with on the other end? How do you check yourself in these instances?

For the sake of this exercise, don’t be afraid to get personal. Where do you experience the most conflict, self-doubt, or even imposter syndrome? It doesn’t necessarily have to go into the final talk, but this insight can be important in pulling out your most authentic feelings on the idea. This authenticity is what can help you truly connect with an audience too.

2) What specific moments and scenes can you share for this story?

Good storytelling happens in scenes. This is important because you want your audience to follow along on the journey with you. Humans are predisposed to create pictures in our minds of the stories we hear. Even as you’ve been reading this blog post, have you caught yourself picturing you or somebody else speaking from a podium or in front of a crowd? Did you picture a hypothetical manager above, dwelling on the ins and outs of managerial strategy?

There are different ways to approach thinking about the moments and scenes for your talk. One way is to think of the conflicts above and try to think of specific times and places where these conflicts have come to life for you. This could include specific encounters, discussions with colleagues and partners, moments from earlier in your life, or any number of things you might have experienced. Even if it’s a conflict that goes on completely in your head, take us to the scenes where this is going on in your head. Are you sitting at your desk? Out for a walk? Stuck in traffic? It can go a long ways towards getting the audience to follow along with your story better.

Another way to approach scenes for your story is to think of the moments that felt significant to you and work backward from there to understand why. What conflicts might you have been you experiencing in those moments? What was going on in your life at the time? Try to imagine yourself as a fly on the wall. What would you have seen? How do you think an objective viewer might understand the scene?

Scenes can sometimes be the hardest of the three to think about because many of us are accustomed to thinking about our experiences in general terms, but taking the time to zero in on specific moments will take the audience to the place with you and get them to invest in your story.

3)  Why is this topic important to you?

This is probably the most important question of the three. Why do you want to give this talk? What important idea or insight do you have to share that you don’t think the audience will be able to get from anybody else? What is motivating you to share this idea as opposed to staying home and leaving it for someone else?

Think about the moments and conflicts above. What have you learned from these experiences? Why are these experiences important to you? What can other people get out of your experiences that can be helpful to them?

If the topic of your talk isn’t important to you, it won’t be important for the audience either. At some point in the first 40 seconds of your talk, you’ll need to answer the unspoken question in all of their minds, “Why is this important?”

Get real with yourself on what you want to share and really drill down on why it’s important. If you can’t answer this question, maybe you need to consider changing the topic of your talk.

———

Sharing your ideas in the context of a story is the most important and effective way to connect with and inspire an audience. This list isn’t comprehensive but it’s a good place to start, especially if public speaking is new to you. Giving yourself 30-40 minutes to quick write through each of these items above. I promise it will provide you with a lot of clarity and material to get you started on the right track.

* * *

Do you want some help with planning your own stories? I've got the perfect tool for you. Sign up below and I’ll send you my Story Planner Worksheet. It will walk you through the basic steps of crafting the stories you can have handy for when you need them.