Answer Your Audience’s Key Question
When you’re trying to figure out how to craft your message for all of the different people you want it to reach, you can end up addressing the question you want to answer, rather than the question your audience needs to have answered. The good news is that there are three universal questions that everyone needs an answer to before they will change their behavior or their action: Why?, What now?, and How?
The even better news? Depending on which question is most important to your audience, it can help you determine which type of message you need to prepare.
If your audience needs help understanding the real problem in the way of their goal, that’s a “Why”-type message – most of your time will be spent one the early pieces of the message’s Red Thread: the Goal and the Problem.
If your audience can understand and agree with the problem fairly quickly, but need more time understanding what the new opportunity is and how to use it, that’s a “What Now”-type message. You’ll spend the first half getting your audience to the Idea and Change and the last half on how to effect that change and what it looks like.
Finally, for audiences that already understand and agree with the Problem, and Idea, but need help seeing the new Change and how to do it, that’s a “How”-type message. Almost all of your time will be spent on the Change and Actions.
But remember: every message needs to answer all three questions – and include all pieces of the Red Thread – to drive action.
If you take a step back a really consider who it is that you’re trying to reach and what their expertise is, you can figure out which question needs the most amount of time and attention. To help you, we’ve included some TED Talks that each focus on a different key question.
- Malcolm Gladwell – The Unheard Story of David and Goliath
- Jill Bolte Taylor – My Stroke of Insight
- Nilofer Merchant – Got a Meeting? Take a Walk
- Ken Robinson – Do Schools Kill Creativity?
- Amy Cuddy – Your Body Language May Shape Who You Are
- Melissa Marshall – Talk Nerdy to Me
– There are three types of messages. Which one is or should be yours? It all depends on what question your message answers. I’m Tamsen Webster of tamsenwebster.com and this is Find The Red Thread.
I don’t know anyone who doesn’t want their message to hit its mark. And yet, when you’re trying to figure out how to craft that message for all the different kinds of people that could be watching, reading, or listening, that can feel pretty mysterious. And in the face of that mystery, we do something that actually makes our job a little harder. We end up answering the question we, the message maker, wants to answer, rather than the question the audience needs us to answer.
Well how does that simplify everything? Because all those different people could be asking all sorts of questions. True, but remember that there are three universal questions that every person needs an answer to before they will change their behavior, or before they will change their action. And those three questions are, Why? What now? And, How?
“Why am I not achieving the thing that I want to achieve?” Once they understand that, then, before I’m ready to go to a, “How do I solve that?”, I need to understand, “What now? What is the nature of the new opportunity? What do I need to understand now in order to really solve that problem and achieve my goal?” Then, and only then, once I understand and agree with that, am I ready to understand How. “How can I fix it?”
What do we do with this information? Well, here’s the thing to remember, that their question determines your answer. Which means you have to step back and really think about, on the whole, who is in that audience, the kind of person that you most want to reach. That means you need to go back to that question of, who are you for? Or, whom are you for? But who are you for? Where is that person in their expertise where it comes to this topic? Where is that person in their readiness when it comes to this topic? Once you understand that, then it’s fairly easy to figure out where you need to spend the most time.
Do you need to spend a lot of time getting someone to understand and agree with the problem? Well then you have a “Why?” type message. Do you need to spend more time getting them to this new opportunity? And then once they got that, well they’re going to be pretty open to do with it, so you’re going to want to spend about equal amount of time on how to put that new Idea and the new Change into action. Well, then that’s a “What now?” talk.
And then the final talk, as you may have guessed, or the final type of message, is that “How?” message, where you don’t need to spend much time at all on the Goal, the Problem, or the Idea, maybe not even on the Change, because people are already ready and willing to hear you on that. That’s where you’re going to spend most of your time explaining exactly how to do something. And, as you might have guessed, that’s the “How?” message.
So, what does that look like in real life? Here I’m going to turn to TED Talks, because that’s an easy, quick way for you to go see these messages at work. Some great examples of “Why?” type messages are Malcolm Gladwell’s “The Unheard Story of David and Goliath,” Jill Bolte Taylor’s “My Stroke Of Insight,” I would also include Nilofer Merchant’s talk, “Got A Meeting? Take a Walk” talk here. Now, that sounds like a “How?” talk based on its title, but if you look for the Red Thread in that, you’ll see that she’s really establishing the case for a new Problem.
What are some “What now?” talks to go look for? The number one TED Talk of all time, Ken Robinson’s “Do Schools Kill Creativity?” is absolutely a “What now?” talk. As is Amy Cuddy’s talk, “Your Body Language May Shape Who You Are.” If you’re looking for a short talk to see this in play, then look for Melissa Marshall’s “Talk Nerdy To Me” talk.
And “How?” talks? Well, this is where one of my all time favorites comes in, and that’s Joe Smith’s “How To Use A Paper Towel.” You could also check out “How To Make Stress Your Friend” from Kelly McGonigal.
So the next time you’re trying to figure out, “Well, how do I pitch this message?” Remember, start with that question, “Who is this message really for?” And once you know that, then you’ll understand which of those three questions they most need an answer to. Why? What Now? Or, How?
Now, to make sure you’re capturing everybody in the audience, make sure that you’re always including the answers to all three questions in your message. The Goal, the Problem, the Idea, the Change, and, if appropriate, the Actions. But then, spend most of your time on where most of the people that you want to reach need that time spent. And that will leave you with a, Why? What now? or How? type message.
If you need help figuring out that Red Thread of your message in the first place, go to findyourredthread.com and download the free Red Thread worksheet. I’m Tamsen Webster of tamsenwebster.com, and I hope you find your Red Thread.