The Power of Why

by Derek Featherstone

Presumably there’s a good reason that you’ve been asked to speak to a group. Maybe it’s because you’ve had certain experiences. Or because you did something very very cool.

You should always ask though: “Why me?” Seriously—ask the event organizers why they want you to speak. It seems very simple, but it can be easily overlooked. Many of us are Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) in a particular area, so we naturally assume that the conference organizers want you to talk about that topic. In fact, we kind of pigeon-hole ourselves and the people that are asking us to speak haven’t pigeon-holed us at all! We’re sealing our own fate.

So find out, at the very beginning: “Why me?” and “What specifically do you have in mind that you’d like me to talk about?”

And if they give you a one word answer, dig deeper. Why? Why? Why? I’ll give you a recent (paraphrased) example:

Them: “Derek, we’d like you to come and do some accessibility workshops for us”

Me: “Why?”

Them: “Because accessibility is important to us as an organization.”

Me: “Why?”

Them: “Well, its gaining a lot of press these days, it has been part of our mandate for the past few years, but now it really seems like we need to start addressing it more comprehensively.”

Me: “Why?”

Them: “Well, we’re getting ready to redesign our site and our applications and we want to be sure that we’re doing it right from the get go… We feel its better to invest in doing it right the first time than it would be to go through it quickly and address accessibility later. We really want to make sure that we create a culture here that encourages our staff to be thinking about accessibility all the time in everything we do.”

See what happens there?

Now I know why they want the workshops. I know more about their end goals (creating a culture where they think about accessibility up front), the pain that the managers are trying to prevent (do it right the first time, rather than spend more money fixing them to be right later), and what content is likely to be helpful (they’re working on a major redesign and are at the beginning of the process so a getting started guide would be useful, for example).

There’s always a reason that they want YOU to speak. Find out what it is, find out what the underlying motivation is. Unlock those doors so you can find out how you can be truly valuable to them.

Next Action:

Always ask questions up front so that you can determine underlying goals and motivations for the organizer. You want to know what they’re trying to accomplish, what pain they’re trying to avoid, and how they’ll judge whether or not you’re successful.

October 6th, 2011

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[…] common sense. But the kind of common sense that you don’t have until someone tells you about it. The Power of Why, for example, emphasizes the importance of continually asking questions, such as, “Why do you […]

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