To Whom Am I Speaking

If I’m stuck when developing a talk or a presentation, it helps me tremendously to remind myself of two fundamental questions:

  1. To whom am I speaking?
  2. What do I want them to walk away with from this talk?

Now, in practice, there are times when I feel inspired and the words (and accompanying slides) just come out.  Often those are the easiest talks to write.

But when I don’t have a bout of inspiration, it helps me a lot to take the deliberate step of thinking through the blanks in this sentence:

At the end of this talk, I want people to walk away understanding ______,  having learned ________, and feeling _______.

That’s a good starting point.  (And please, don’t forget the “feeling” bit.”)

The next big sticking point in that sentence is the word “people.”  Which people, exactly?

Rather than think about types or groups of people, increasingly I try to think of a specific person (or, at most, two) who I feel represents the most important audience-member to whom I want to speak.  That person doesn’t need to be physically present for the talk (though that helps), she just needs to be someone I know well enough to allow me to look at what I’m planning to say and ask myself, “would she find this engaging?  How should I say this in a way that connects with her worldview and where she is coming from?  What points would I make, and how would I make them, in a way that would resonate with and move her?”

Without this, I’m just writing for me, and, problematically, I find most of what I’m interested in interesting.