Whenever we’re creating a presentation or getting ready for a meeting, it’s natural to think about what we want to say and the best way to say it. It’s normal to think, “How can I communicate this message effectively?” It’s usually what I’m thinking.

But when I catch myself thinking this, I remind myself that it’s the wrong question.

It’s the wrong question because the subtext, the unspoken version of it, is “How can I get my audience to agree with me and do what I want?” And if this is what we’re thinking, this is the intention we’ll unconsciously convey.

Humans have hundreds of thousands of years of evolutionary experience in judging one another’s intentions. We’ve become quite good at it. If your intention towards your audience is to get them to do what you want, they’ll know.  

The question we should be asking is, “How can I help them?” How can I be of service? How can this message give them something of value, or take away some pain for them?

When I ask this question instead, this small shift in perspective completely changes my approach. Paradoxically, it helps me convey my message much more effectively. The audience senses my intention to be of service to them, and you know what? It just feels a whole lot better.

Of course to do this, you actually have to find out what’s of value to your audience and what kinds of problems and challenges they have, and that means you have to get out there and talk with them to get to know them better.

In my work, I help people learn to tell real stories to communicate their business messages. But the thing about great storytelling is that it’s not your own story you’re telling, even when you’re sharing your own experiences. You’re telling the audience their story.