As a speaker, when you really want to show listeners you care about them and have their interests in mind, use the pronouns "you," "your," and "yours." These audience-centric words draw your listeners into your message, appeal to their self-interest, and influence them toward your way of thinking. Conversely, speaker-centric words such as "I," "me," "my," and "mine" are less engaging and persuasive because they relate to the speaker, not the audience.
For example, imagine you and a group of your colleagues are attending a presentation to decide which software vendor you will choose to replace your outdated hospital information system. You'll be spending millions of dollars and your job security depends on choosing the right partner. Two vendors make it to the finals. The presenter for Vendor 1, Chris, opens the presentation like this:
"My name is Chris Jones with Acme. My team and I toured this facility last month, so I'm here today to talk about why I believe Acme is the right vendor for the future. I'll begin with our company overview. I am proud to say, the industry ranks our company as the number one leader in healthcare; we have been in business over 100 years; and we have more customers than any other vendor. In addition, our products have won us numerous awards and offer full integration. We will now demonstrate our products to show our state-of-the-art technology and the value we deliver."
Chris loses the audience in less than one minute. Why? The message is speaker-centric. The pronouns (shown in bold) and other words make the message all about Chris and Chris' company and do not relate to or include the listeners.
Conversely, the presenter for Vendor 2, Pat, opens like this:
"Thank you for your time today and for the opportunity to visit with you here at Martin General. It's a pleasure to meet all of you on the IT Leadership Committee. My name is Pat Smith with ABC Solutions. Jim, you and Sarah gave us a great tour of Martin last month that helped us understand your key business challenges. As a result, what you'll see today is a tailored demonstration of ABC's award-winning solutions; you'll discover how they offer full integration, which enables you to achieve your top three goals of improved patient safety, operational efficiency, and financial performance."
Pat captures the audience in less than one minute. Why? Audience-centric language. Most of the pronouns are "You," "Your," and "Yours," plus names and references that relate directly to the listeners.
To engage and persuade others more effectively, minimize "I" and maximize "you." Here are a few tips to show your next audience you are focused on them:
1. Assess your "I" to "You" ratio. The first step is to become aware. Are you overusing speaker-centric pronouns? Record your next presentation or talk. Play back the recording. Count the number of times you hear "I," "Me," "My," and "Mine. " Also include "We," "Us," and "Our" if the word refers solely to you and your company, and not the listener. For example, "We have more customers..." is speaker-centric, whereas "Together, we can achieve success..." is audience-centric. Next, count the number of times you hear "You," "Your," "Yours," plus the listeners' names (personal names and the audience's company name). How do the two totals compare? Ideally, the ratio of "You" to "I" is 4:1, that is, you use four times as many audience-centric words as speaker-centric.
2. Write your opening minute and closing minute. For your next presentation or talk, be intentional about using more audience-centric words, especially in the opening and closing. Script your first and last minute. Craft your sentences to include pronouns and other words that directly relate to and include your listeners (similar to Pat's example above). Certainly, you won't read this script during the live presentation; however, this preparation process trains your brain to use "you" more frequently and to speak from the audience's perspective.
3. Begin and end by saying "Thank you." When you open your presentation with these two polite words, you immediately place the focus on the audience. Similarly, when you close by saying, "Thank you for your time and attention," or "Thank you for the opportunity to work together," the closing emphasis is also on the audience.
4. Say their name before yours. Consider Pat's example: "Thank you for your time today and for the privilege of visiting with you here at Martin General. . .My name is Pat Smith." This mentions the customer first and prioritizes their name above the speaker's.
5. Use you-focused benefit phrases. Audiences buy benefits, not features. Whether you're selling an idea or a product, your listeners are motivated by personal self-interest and the advantages they receive. When you directly link the benefits of your message with the pronoun "you," the audience quickly understands the direct value to them, which makes them more inclined to buy from you. In the above example, Chris says, "Our products offer full integration." Integration all by itself is a feature which may cause the audience to think, "So what? Who cares?" Notice how Pat links the feature of integration with "you" and the benefits: "These solutions offer full integration, which enables you to achieve your top three goals of improved patient safety, operational efficiency, and financial performance."
It's no wonder the word "you" is among the most persuasive words in the English language. These three little letters tell your audience members that your priority, interest, and care are appropriately and unmistakably focused on them. Consider using the power pronoun "you" to engage and persuade your next audience.
If you would like to learn more about effective presentation skills and communication proficiency, please read my book