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Facts Aren't Enough

Executives get rewarded for making a fact-based case, but facts alone don't win the day.

For a long time, the only trick my dog could do was roll over. When I tried to teach him something new, he wouldn't do it. He'd do what earned him the biscuit, he rolled over.

Every day, your boss gets rewarded for doing things by cold fact, so your boss’ instinct has become to use that in every situation. Which explains why, when you are writing for your principal, he or she often insists that you add "one more fact" to a speech, as if audiences are persuaded when the volume of data reaches some critical mass.

That may work in a green-eyeshade situation but not in communication.

A speech needs fact, but not only fact.

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A doctor friend of mine, an expert in obesity, tells me that anybody can stick to a diet for a few days on the white-knuckle basis of its being the right, smart, logical thing to do.

But the logical thing motivates us only for so long. To stick with something, we have to have a deep-seated motivation. In the case of obesity, we have to find that drive in the desire to live longer for our children, to look better for our mate, to feel healthier, to fit into nice clothes or the airplane seat, or to look like a natural among people we admire for their own good looks. That is, we need to feel something that keeps us engaged when it comes time to do the heavy lifting.
So it is with a speech. An audience might know they should listen, but they won’t listen long unless they feel like it -- or, rather, unless you make them feel like it.


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And that's your job.

Make the speech a pleasure to listen to. For instance, engage the audience immediately with a story, narrative, or personal experience that makes them wonder what’s going to happen next, and what's in it for them. And then keep engaging them throughout. Don't just tell them the how. Make the feel the why.

Your boss is right that serious topics deserve serious consideration. But that means giving serious consideration to what motivates the audience, not just presenting a parade of cold fact.

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