The Why, the importance of understanding what problem you are solving

In his book “Start with Why” Simon Sinnek emphasises that people buy the “why” of a company well before they buy the “what”. It’s the same with presentations.

All presentations aim to get people to think/do/feel a certain way, so you need to start with the “why”. By that, I mean you need to spend time outlining the reason “why” what you are about to say, or what you want them to do, is so important.

I recently worked with a very senior client who was proposing to merge two departments (the company had recently merged with another) . When she started running through her presentation, she jumped straight to what senior management should do, with nothing about why it was necessary. They may have agreed with what she suggested as a process, but if they didn’t agree that the merger was necessary in the first place, she wouldn’t get their support. All that time researching, preparing and presenting would have been wasted.

Sometimes, to you the presenter, the “why” may appear self-evident…such is the curse of knowledge. It’s possible that your audience may well already have some understanding of the need, or worse still, think they understand (but don’t) the “Why”. It is still worthwhile summarising the “Why” before you commence the “What”. You don’t want to go through the What, How, When and Who only to find that some in the audience haven’t yet agreed that the Why is strong enough to drive all of that commitment to implement your proposal. To use an example, you can tell someone how to give up smoking and they may even try, but unless they have bought into the dangers to their health if they smoke, it’s unlikely they will stop, or if they do, not restart when the cravings come. The more they “Buy the Why”, the more likely it is that they will quit for good.

Also understand that the Why may be different for some people. To use the above example, someone may not give up smoking because they think “it won’t happen to me”. You could argue until you’re blue in the face that statistically it may (and they can counter with similar statistics). Pointing out that it may reduce their attraction to the opposite sex may be their “hot button”. The more research you can do on what motivates the audience, the more you can tailor and focus the “Why”.

No examination of the why would be complete without a good look at “why not”. Examining the other side of the argument prepares you for objections. In that matter, not be afraid to raise the “why not” case in your presentation. You will get more credibility for being prepared to discuss this anyway.

So, next time you are preparing your presentation, ensure you spend sufficient time early in the presentation to fully explain the “why”, if appropriate the “why not” and ensure they is general agreement about this before moving on to the “what”.

Lee Featherby (@mrpresentations)