blog-wiifm2I’ve often wondered what it would be like to be a schoolteacher. Many people look at professional speakers and corporate trainers as teachers, but there is one critical difference between these two professions. That difference involves the students, and how to motivate them.  In school, the motivation is rather simple:

  • “Behave or you’ll be sent to the principal’s office.”
  • “If you don’t pay attention, you won’t get a good grade.”
  • “If you don’t get good grades, you won’t get into a good school.”
  • “If you don’t get into a good school, you might not get a good job.”

In corporate world, the motivation is somewhat different:

  • “Pay attention or, I’ll send you to… you won’t get a… uh, please pay attention!”

Once we leave the hallowed halls of our educational institutions, using fear as a motivator ceases to be effective. Those who choose to be on a stage, a training room, or a conference room, must survive on their own wit and ability to motivate the room.

Sometimes I actually wish a student would stand up, look me in the eye, and say, “I really don’t see a need for me to be here! What’s in it for me to learn this material?” Does that sound rude or inappropriate to you? I happen to think it’s one of the most important questions a student can, and should ask. Don’t believe me? Let’s look at the alternative.

You walk into a room of ten people. Eight of them really want to hear your message, and they can’t wait to listen to what you have to say. Two of them, however, are not happy to be there. Maybe they were forced to go to this meeting by their bosses. Maybe the last time they went to a meeting like this, the presentation was a mess and a total waste of time.  Maybe they’re just fed up with going to meetings that are of no value to them whatsoever.  These people do not walk in with signs saying, “Not Happy to be Here!”  Although they’re not actually verbalizing this question, they are thinking to themselves: “What’s in it for me?” It happens to be the most important question never asked.

It’s a shame this was rarely, if ever, modeled in our countless years of education, but let me model it loud and clear right here. Every presentation – I repeat – every presentation, should clearly address the benefits of learning what is about to be presented. The presenter needs to answer this question: “What’s in it for the student?” What’s more, this explanation should come at the very beginning of the presentation.

There’s no need take students on a journey that will allow him or her to somehow discover the answer to this question. If someone doesn’t see value in what you are about to say, why would he or she care what you are going to talk about? Why should they care about who you are, or where your information came from, or what your agenda is? If someone sees value in what you are about to say, he or she will be locked into your talk.

This seems like a good way for all kinds of teachers to begin each and every class. Should teachers do this?  Yes.  Do the good ones do this?  Yes.  But in the real world of corporate presentations, when speakers have to manufacture their own motivation, we need to answer the student’s question, “What’s in it for me?” as early in the presentation as possible. It is one of the most important steps you can take to motivate a room full of attendees, and it will help you to nail the presentation!

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