Stress-test your presentation with this question

“YOU,” according to an oft-quoted Yale University study, is one of the 10 most powerful words.

Unfortunately, there’s no record of this study. Never happened. Too bad, it certainly sounds plausible. Don’t you think, if there had been a study, YOU would have made the list?

YOU is still a good word. It makes you, the speaker, think about the YOU you’re speaking to.

Sometimes, I ask audiences what they’re really thinking about. They say:

1) “I’m thinking about my To Do list, and all the things I’m not doing, because I’m sitting here, half-listening to you.”


2) “Gluten. Why is everyone so obsessed with gluten-free food? Is gluten poisonous? I just ate a muffin. Did it have gluten? Am I going to die?”

3) “In one word: me.”

The point is, your audience is probably not thinking about you. But if you suddenly say, YOU, they’re likely to notice. “Oh,” they think, “I was just thinking about me, but here’s someone talking about me. I wonder what he’s saying about me?”

So YOU is a good word to know. But, by itself, insufficient.

Let’s consider another power word, this one research-tested: BECAUSE.

Imagine you’re using a copy machine, unaware there’s an experiment going on—and you’re about to be in it. Someone approaches you, and asks if he/she can cut in to use the machine. But gives no reason. You’re likely to comply about 60% of the time.

But if they say, “Can I use the copy machine BECAUSE I’m in a rush,” compliance shoots up to almost 95%.

And, incredibly, if they say, “Can I use the copy machine BECAUSE I have to make copies,” compliance is still almost 95% (“Scientist at Work: Ellen Langer,” NY Times, 9/23/97).

What does this mean—for you?


1) It’s surprisingly easy, when using a copy machine, to go brain-dead. Probably from gluten.

2) When you give people a reason to do something, they’re more likely do it.

Let’s return to your presentation. Your instinct, when preparing, is to stress-test it from your perspective: How will you remember everything?

Wrong question.

Let’s stress-test it from the audience perspective: How will they remember anything?

Fill in the blank: YOU need to hear this BECAUSE _______.

Tip: Your audience has absolutely no reason to pay attention. So give them one. And make it about them.

p.s. YOU appeared 33 times in this tip.

© Copyright 2015 Paul Hellman. All rights reserved.

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