Answer “Why”, Win Your Audience

Remember that kid who sat in the back in math class who, in the middle of the teacher’s explanation of some theory, would raise his hand and ask, “Why is this even important?” The teacher, sensing the underlying defiance of this free-thinker, would fumble some answer, trying to avoid the “just because” response. (I, for the record, was the kid in the front of the class for whom “because the teacher says” was why enough).

As uncomfortable as the question of Why can make us, this might be the most important question to answer if you want your message to inspire change or action.

“People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.”
– Simon Sinek

In the aptly-named Start With Why, Simon Sinek stresses the importance of addressing the question of Why before addressing What or How. When we start our marketing message with What we are trying to sell, we might be able to appeal to the rational minds of our audience, but will fail to win the loyalty of those who believe what we believe. It’s the Why that resonates with people’s hearts.

If your message is failing to inspire the loyalty of your customers, maybe you need to share the reason your business exists in the first place.

If your speech isn’t connecting with your audience, you might need to go back and share Why it matters.

The Why of Giving

I attended a blood donor luncheon for corporate sponsors yesterday (a light-hearted affair, to be sure!). The conversation around our table touched briefly on the obligatory “how often do you donate” and “have you ever fainted while giving blood” stories, but quickly turned to Why. Two co-workers had started donating when their co-worker was diagnosed with leukaemia. Another woman at the table was a blood recipient following a car accident. The difference between those whose donations is motivated by a Why versus “because it’s just a good thing to do” is night and day. It’s a Why that truly motivates and inspires action.

An Example of Why First

Inspired by Sinek, I took a look at how I had recently introduced our Toastimer speech timer. My introduction was filled with What, but completely overlooked the Why.

Here’s version one:

I’d like to introduce you to a new tool for speakers and Toastmasters called Toastimer.

Toastimer is a simple speech timer designed specifically Toastmasters who need a convenient timing system on their phone or tablet. Simply select your speech length and hit Start! As you near the end of your speech, the entire screen becomes a highly visible warning light as it turns green, yellow then red.

See that? What, What, What. Sure, it’s cool that the whole screen turns red, but who cares? Jumping straight into What might sound humble, but fails to communicate the belief that birthed Toastimer in the first place!

It was at this point that I realized why we so often skip the Why altogether. Communicating Why is hard! (There’s a reason why, out of courtesy, ask strangers What they do, and not Why they do it.)

Why is difficult to put into words. Why is vulnerable.

Here’s how I decided to introduce Toastimer in version two:

William Morris once said, “If you want a golden rule that will fit everybody, this is it: Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.”

Useful and beautiful. It’s this aspiration that drives great web design (and great speeches too). The best web tools are both useful, and they look and feel beautiful.

A while back Stefan and I looked at the needs of Toastmasters clubs and wanted to make a speech timer for Toastmasters that would be useful, simple, and look great too. Many club members carry around smartphones and iPads (useful, beautiful devices) and we tried to create a tool that would capitalize on the technology we already carry in our pockets.

I’d like to introduce you to Toastimer

I’m not convinced I nailed it, but it’s getting better.

What’s your Why?

Why does your company exist? Why does your speech matter? Answer this question, and you might even be able to win over that kid in the back of your math class.

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  1. I was not the student that asked so many whys but the child. Drove my mother crazy! She interpreted my curious mind as having a bad attitude because I didn’t accept ‘just because’. “Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.” – that’s my ‘why’ in my business. Why surround yourself with broken items, unfinished projects, piles all over the place and things you might need ‘some day’? Surround yourself with beauty! Life too short to live any other way! Get organized and embrace simplicity!

  2. I am that kid as well. Both of them at different times. Thanks for sharing. I really enjoy your style of writing, keep it up. After asking why my company exists, I decided to go a step further and get all crazy, why do I exist. The fun never stops unless you stop it. I am not here just for myself but for something much bigger.

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