Three key words for every speaker

Three key words for any speaker: I, You and We

There are three key words that every speaker needs to master. In many respects, they are the most important words that one can say on stage: “I”, “you” and “we”. Each has its place.

“I” and its variants (“my”, etc.)

“I” is all about the speaker and his or her perspective, ideas, experience, opinions and personal stories. The audience is interested – usually – in what the speaker is going to say. People want to hear his or her viewpoint on the subject at hand.

The use of “I” makes the speech more subjective. It can allow the speaker to express his or her compassion or concern for the audience. It can also be used to establish a speaker’s authority or expertise.

However, when you speak in public, it is important to balance what you say about yourself with the rest of the talk. Too much “I” can be perceived as arrogance or insensitivity to others.

And remember not to talk just about your achievements and successes. Being vulnerable and talking about your failures or weaknesses – and what you have learned from them – is a great way to strengthen your bond with the audience.

“You” and its variants (“your”, etc.)

“You” is all about the people in the audience and their challenges, needs, hopes and fears. Whatever the speaker is talking about, there has to be a reason why the audience should care. Otherwise, why bother to speak?

Whenever speakers prepare for a speech or presentation, they should have a message. But that message has to be relevant for the audience. When a speaker says “you,” the people in the audience feel that the speaker is speaking directly to them.

However, note that in English, the word “you” can also be indefinite, not referring to anyone in particular. For example: “You should exercise three days a week.” Here, “you” could be replaced with “one” or “people”.

“We” and its variants (“our”, etc.)

“We” is all about the speaker and the audience together: their common values; common history and common concerns. Whenever there is a shared challenge or objective, “we” is the word to use.

A coach speaking to the team or a CEO speaking to the company or a President speaking to the nation will each use “we” to signal a commonality of purpose and commitment. Indeed, the title of a 2015 Harvard Business Review article specifically states, If You Want to Be the Boss, Say “We” Not “I”.

“We” can also be used to differentiate the speaker and audience from “them”; i.e., another group. Politicians often use this technique when speaking. For example, “We will never agree to their unreasonable demands.”

Three key words

To see the impact of all three pronouns in action, watch how Barack Obama used them during the final minute of his farewell speech as President in January 2017.

By my count, he said “I” (or its variants) 11 times, “you” (or its variants) 12 times, and “we” (or its variants) 4 times. And he interwove the three masterfully.

“I”, “you” and “we” are three small words made up of six letters in total. Yet, they are three key words for any speaker. Use them well and you will make an impact on your audience.

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John delivered a keynote address about the importance of public speaking to 80 senior members of Gore’s Medical Device Europe team at an important sales event. He was informative, engaging and inspirational. Everyone was motivated to improve their public speaking skills. Following his keynote, John has led public speaking workshops for Gore in Barcelona and Munich. He is an outstanding speaker who thinks carefully about the needs of his audience well before he steps on stage.

Karsta Goetze

TA Leader, Gore and Associates

I first got in touch with John while preparing to speak at TED Global about my work on ProtonMail. John helped me to sharpen the presentation and get on point faster, making the talk more focused and impactful. My speech was very well received, has since reached almost 1.8 million people and was successful in explaining a complex subject (email encryption) to a general audience.

Andy Yen

CEO, Proton Technologies

John gave the opening keynote on the second day of our unit’s recent offsite in Geneva, addressing an audience of 100+ attendees with a wealth of tips and techniques to deliver powerful, memorable presentations. I applied some of these techniques the very next week in an internal presentation, and I’ve been asked to give that presentation again to senior management, which has NEVER happened before. John is one of the greatest speakers I know and I can recommend his services without reservation.

David Lindelöf

Senior Data Scientist, Expedia Group

After a morning of team building activities using improvisation as the conduit, John came on stage to close the staff event which was organised in Chamonix, France. His energy and presence were immediately felt by all the members of staff. The work put into the preparation of his speech was evident and by sharing some his own stories, he was able to conduct a closing inspirational speech which was relevant, powerful and impactful for all at IRU. The whole team left feeling engaged and motivated to tackle the 2019 objectives ahead. Thank you, John.

Umberto de Pretto

Secretary General, World Road Transport Organization

I was expecting a few speaking tips and tricks and a few fun exercises, but you went above and beyond – and sideways. You taught me to stand tall. You taught me to anchor myself. You taught me to breathe. You taught me to open up. You taught me to look people in the eye. You taught me to tell the truth. You taught me to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes. I got more than I bargained for in the best possible way.

Thuy Khoc-Bilon

World Cancer Day Campaign Manager, Union for International Cancer Control

John gave a brilliant presentation on public speaking during the UN EMERGE programme in Geneva (a two days workshop on leadership development for a group of female staff members working in the UN organizations in Geneva). His talk was inspirational and practical, thanks to the many techniques and tips he shared with the audience. His teaching can dramatically change our public speaking performance and enable us as presenters to have a real and powerful impact. Thank you, John, for your great contribution!

Sara Canna

HR Specialist, World Health Organization

John is a genuine communication innovator. His seminars on gamification of public speaking learning and his interactive Rhetoric game at our conference set the tone for change and improvement in our organisation. The quality of his input, the impact he made with his audience and his effortlessly engaging style made it easy to get on board with his core messages and won over some delegates who were extremely skeptical as to the efficacy of games for learning. I simply cannot recommend him highly enough.

Thomas Scott

National Education Director, Association of Speakers Clubs UK

John joined our Global Sales Meeting in Segovia, Spain and we all participated in his "Improv(e) your Work!" session. I say “all” because it really was all interactive, participatory, learning and enjoyable. The session surprised everybody and was a fresh-air activity that brought a lot of self-reflection and insights to improve trust and confidence in each other inside our team. It´s all about communication and a good manner of speaking!"

Jon Lopez

General Manager Europe, Hayward Industries

Thank you very much for the excellent presentation skills session. The feedback I received was very positive. Everyone enjoyed the good mix of listening to your speech, co-developing a concrete take-away and the personal learning experience. We all feel more devoted to the task ahead, more able to succeed and an elevated team spirit. Delivering this in a short time, both in session and in preparation, is outstanding!

Henning Dehler

CFO European Dairy Supply Chain & Operations, Danone

Thanks to John’s excellent workshop, I have learned many important tips and techniques to become an effective public speaker. John is a fantastic speaker and teacher, with extensive knowledge of the field. His workshop was a great experience and has proven extremely useful for me in my professional and personal life.

Eric Thuillard

Senior Sales Manager, Sunrise Communications

John’s presentation skills training was a terrific investment of my time. I increased my skills in this important area and feel more comfortable when speaking to an audience. John provided the right mix between theory and practice.

Diego Brait

Director of the Jura Region, BKW Energie AG

Be BOLD. Those two words got stuck in my head and in the heads of all those ADP leaders and associates that had the privilege to see John on stage. He was our keynote speaker at our annual convention in Barcelona, and his message still remains! John puts his heart in every word. Few speakers are so credible, humble and yet super strong with large audiences!

Guadalupe Garcia

Senior Director and Talent Partner, ADP International