Purpose can be defined as the reason for which something is done or created; its aim or intention; essentially its why. If you haven’t watched Simon Sinek’s TedX talk on Golden Circles, I highly recommend it. It is one of the most famous speeches of its kind, because it eloquently explains the power of starting with why.
Knowing why you are doing something may seem obvious, but it is something that is often taken for granted or not properly thought about. Reasons for doing activities might include “because we’ve always done it”, “my boss asked me to” or “it seemed like a good idea”. Some of these may be more valid than others. And whilst they are answers to the question “why?”, they do not address what is the specific purpose/intention/aim of the activity.
Understanding the purpose of what you are doing is important in pretty much any activity. From speaking to meetings to business plans. In this series I’ll offer some examples of how knowing, understanding and using your purpose is powerful in each situation, starting with speaking.
Get to the Point
One of the first speech projects that I did in Toastmasters had the title “Get to the Point”. It was probably the speech I struggled most to understand initially, but the one that I learnt the most from completing.
The lesson of that project was to understand the “point” or purpose of a speech. There are many different types of speech with different purposes: to inspire, inform, persuade, entertain. Once you know the overall purpose of the speech, you can then define its more specific aim.
For example, you may be giving a presentation to clients about the latest case law on your field of expertise. This is a presentation to inform. The specific purpose of the presentation may be to inform your client of the latest case law so they understand how this will affect them going forwards.
Effect on the Audience
One of the most helpful ways I’ve heard this described is “what do you want your audience to know or feel or do as a result of your speech?”.
- Know – You want your audience to understand some new information you are presenting to them. Seminars on technical topics, business updates and new company policies/initiatives often fulfil this purpose. The person presenting conveys something that they are an expert in to the audience. The audience have a reason they want or need to understand this information.
- Feel – The purpose of your speech might be to inspire or motivate. In order to prompt feelings in your audience, you need to make an emotional connection with them. Humans connect with stories and these are the best way to evoke emotions.
- Do – You want people to take action as a result of what you say. On one level it may be that they should take action because you are in a position of authority and you tell them to do so (i.e. it is part of their job). You could outline why it is important they take action or the consequences of them not doing so.
Without direct authority, getting people to do something as a result of a presentation is far more difficult. You need to persuade your audience to make a decision to do something. For example, in a pitch for new business, the potential client needs to decide to appoint you rather than others pitching for the work. In this circumstance, you are likely to need to utilise all three effects on your audience. The potential client needs information about what services you will offer, they will need to feel they can trust you to perform those services and the combination of these things will persuade them to take the action of choosing to appoint you. By understanding the purpose is to persuade your client to appoint you to do the job, you can then choose the most effective contents for your presentation.
Kill Your Darlings
An important process for deciding what to include or not include in your speech is “killing your darlings”. For each bit of information, story or example you include, you should ask “does this contribute to the purpose?”. Is yes, great. If not, leave it out.
It is often one of the most challenging parts of crafting a speech or presentation. You may have a wonderful story, it means a lot to you and you really want to tell it. It might be funny, poignant and memorable. But, it doesn’t quite fit in with your message. It doesn’t further the purpose of your speech. As hard as it is, you need to take it out and use an example that better illustrates your point.
Using the example of a pitch to persuade a client to appoint you, you may have a great story of a piece of work you did for another client. You solved a particularly difficult problem, saved the client money and they were delighted with the result. You enjoy telling the story because it shows your expertise and praise from a client. But if the client is not in the same sector as the potential client you are pitching to, if the piece of work you completed brilliantly is not related to the services you will be providing to your potential client, it is unlikely to be the best example to use.
All About the Why
When you think about your purpose in speaking, you are answering the question: “why should your audience listen to you?”. Understanding that enables you to decide what is most appropriate to include in your presentation. If you carefully select information, stories and examples aligned to your purpose you are far more likely to achieve the aim of your presentation.
I’ve concentrated here on verbal presentations, but the importance of purpose applies to most means of communication, including e-mails, newsletters and meetings. If you understand what you are trying to achieve, you can more effectively select what to include. In my next post, I’ll explore how this purpose can make a difference in meetings.