The Social Contract

You have just been asked to give a speech or presentation and are all fired up to do a great job.  Congratulations.

You will undoubtedly have many questions about your presentation.  However, there is one question – indeed the most important question – that should be the first one you ask (and answer): “What’s in it for me?”  I don’t mean your speaking fee.  In fact, I am not talking about you, the speaker, at all.

The question, “What’s in it for me?”, must be asked from the point of view of your audience.  How is your speech or presentation relevant for them?  Why should they care?  Why should they listen to you when they could be doing dozens of other things?

Jean-Jacques Rousseau

Speakers often overlook this most fundamental of questions.  A speech is not about the speaker; it is about the audience.  You might have the most interesting topic in the world, but if it is not relevant to your audience, you will be wasting your time and theirs.

In 1762, Jean-Jacques Rousseau published his seminal work, The Social Contract.  I believe that public speakers enter into a social contract every time they take the stage.  On the one hand, they are giving information; on the other, the audience is giving its time and, often, its money.  Speakers must add value.

So do your homework before you speak.  Find out about the people in your audience.  Ask the organizers about them and the positions they hold.  Determine whether they have special interests about your topic.  Doing so will enable you to craft a presentation that gives real value.  In turn, you will be appreciated and likely invited back or recommended to others.


About John Zimmer

International speaker, presentation skills expert, lawyer, improv performer
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2 Responses to The Social Contract

  1. Kip Ferguson says:

    This is great. All too often people don’t think about their audience. We need to get folks to realize this and also use the concept when it comes to the social media tools like Twitter.

    • John Zimmer says:

      Thanks for the comment, Kip. I agree with you about expanding this concept to social media. On Twitter, I have become very selective about the people whom I follow and regularly cull that list. Not because they are not nice or interesting, but rather because the things that they write about are not of pressing interest to me. By culling my list regularly, I find that most of the tweets I get are interesting and helpful.



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