Get the Best Answers by preparing the Right Questions

Posted by martin.parnell |
Get the Best Answers by preparing the Right Questions

Media Coach, Alan Stevens is sometimes asked to write speeches for other people. He says that it's a tough task and, in order to do it well, “You need to be able to get inside the head of the other person, to understand the way they think, the impression they like to create, and the phrases they like to use”.

He informs us that many politicians employ speechwriters. Most of Ronald Reagan's great orations were written by his chief writer, Peggy Noonan. Even JFK's "ask not what your country can do for you..." actually came from the pen of Ted Sorensen.

Stevens explains that it’s not enough to just re-work what a person says, you have to go deeper and try to see things from their point of view. When writing a speech for someone, he will go to see them speak, or watch videos of their speeches. Then meet with them, and ask them a set of questions.

When I looked at those questions, it struck me that answering them would be a valuable exercise to do in a range of situations, e.g. when preparing to write your own speech, when making a presentation or pitching an idea.

If you are able to answer these questions, not only will you be prepared, but you will be more confident in your approach.

These are the questions that Stevens asks:

  • What do you want to achieve?
  • What is your key message?
  • Can you explain that to me simply?
  • Why is this important to your audience?
  • What challenges do you expect?
  • What is the practical application?
  • Can you give me some stories and examples?
  • Are you sure of your position?
  • What do you want to leave out?
  • Why is this important to you?

If you are a journalist, you could use most of them when conducting an interview or writing a story.

It might be worth keeping this check list and referring to it until you get into the habit of asking yourself these things, each time you prepare a speech or written piece. 

If you are in a mentoring role, you might consider the words of Simon O. Sinek, a British/American author, motivational speaker and marketing consultant, who said “Leadership isn’t answering the questions others ask. Leadership is asking others to answer their own questions.”

And it’s worth remembering that, whether you are speaking or writing, your subject line or opening sentence will be the hook to capture attention.  You want people to sit up and take notice. Answering these questions can help you with that too.

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