“We/ I/ They/ You” The Use of Pronouns Can Make All the Difference for Your Presentations
by Claudia Brogan
One simple tip that will help polish your public speaking and make a big difference: Using pronouns well can take your presentation from a diatribe, sermon-like lecture to an engaging, inviting talk.
Though this may sound like a tiny, inconsequential matter, the fact is that paying attention to this specific tip about pronouns will mean the difference between an audience feeling like you have “talked down” to them, or an audience feeling like you have humbly shared the lessons you have learned along the way.
Recently, I prepared well for a speech. Conscious to provide thorough content and information, I had constructed a useful, practical presentation. I included tips and techniques for the listeners to put to use, and even made sure to include hearty encouragement.
With all that attention to content, I forgot to frame it as “we can learn these tips” and “I can benefit from this new technique.” Instead, my language inadvertently included plenty of “you.” (“You will improve your skills if you add this technique; you can be better by borrowing this tip”).
At the end of my presentation, I received some eye-opening feedback from a respected colleague. With all the uses of “you” in my language, the overall message of my speech (though well-intentioned) came across like a lecture. Though I did not literally point or shake my finger at the audience member, my words practically did that.
This feedback really lit up a lightbulb and ah-ha for me: since then I have been much more intentional to say instead “We can improve our skills…” And “I have learned a lesson that might be of use to you.” When I share in the lessons and improvements, I signal to my audience that I am still learning too. I resist temptation to lecture, and instead humbly share nuggets that may be useful to others.
The simple use of switching our pronouns can mean a world of difference in a presentation. Let’s each practice listening with care to the pronouns used by speakers, to pick up on the power of pronouns. Then let’s each find ways that we can strengthen our presentations with including ourselves as learners too.
Claudia Brogan is a speaker, trainer and facilitator who helps organizations by coaching presenters, leading collaborative meetings and problem-solving with groups and teams. Reach out to see how she can help you.