5 Important Questions to Ask BEFORE You Speak

As leaders, you and I often have the opportunity to speak in public settings. These may be large events or small – formal or informal, internal audiences or external. Regardless of the context, I’ve found that the more questions I ask before I speak, the greater the impact I can have. Here are five of my favorites.

1. What is the topic? This matters for many reasons. Is it a topic you have spoken on before? Is this a topic that will require additional preparation? If additional preparation is required, do you have time to do it? Is this a topic you’re qualified to speak on? Is this a topic you want to speak on?
2. Who is in the audience? When you know the audience, you know their relative knowledge on a topic. You also know something about their context. Knowing your audience will help shape your talk. It should guide you as you select examples and illustrations. I missed this one day when speaking to some high school students. My son happened to be in the audience. Afterwards, during our debrief, he said, “You needed some kid examples.” He was right!
3. What does success look like? For an internal audience, you and I may get to answer this question from our point-of-view. However, if speaking for someone else, it’s his or her answer that matters. Then the question becomes, “What does success look like to the person that invited me to speak?” As an invited guest, this talk should not be about what I want to accomplish – if I agree to speak, I am there to serve the person or organization that invited me. How will they judge success? That’s the target I’ve got to try to hit.
4. Am I the right person to make this presentation? Having answered the previous questions, I can then decide if I should accept the request to speak. Maybe I’m not the subject matter expert. Maybe I can’t meet the client’s expectations. Maybe I don’t have time to prepare the presentation that the client wants. For any of these reasons, the answer should probably be no. I’ve missed this one before too. I’ve spoken when I shouldn’t have and the results have never been stellar. Now, I really try to muster the discipline to say no when that’s the right answer. I’d rather disappoint the person asking me to speak up front rather than disappoint an entire audience with a poor presentation.
5. Exactly what am I trying to accomplish with this presentation? Assuming that I say yes, I feel the need to get very specific regarding my objective for the talk. I try to determine the specific Desired Result of the presentation as the first step in my preparation. A problem well defined is half solved.[GLS_Shield]
What are some of the questions you ask before you speak?

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Ricky Escobar

11 years ago

When I do a needs assessment, I like to ask "Does the audience know why they are coming and what the expectations of them are in receiving the presentation?" Seeing that motivation and attitude is key to a successful acceptance of learning material, it helps me know how much "convincing or persuading" I need to do on the front end of my presentation to gain their buy in. Low knowledge/expectation of outcome on their end (participants, not group organizer) means lots of building motivation and buy in on my end. Another factor I think is helpful to consider...

Dick Bowley

10 years ago

I like to ask what specific successes and/or issues that the audience has been facing recently. When you use this info as you deliver your points - you connect rather than communicate.


10 years ago

Thanks Dick! Outstanding question. Ultimately, connection will precede impact. Thanks for the reminder.


10 years ago

I also try to seek the context of the entire event and my role within the event. Am I representing in any other organizations besides myself as an individual? Am I speaking as an employee of my company, or am I speaking as me the individual?


10 years ago

I agree - context matters. Specifically, I like to know who has spoken before me and who will follow my presentation. Thanks for your comment!


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