You’re addressing an audience. When should you switch from the inclusive “we” to the more personal “you?”
When is it acceptable to use “I?”
When talking about your own experiences, use “I.” Listeners will follow your story as long as you don’t wait too long before making your journey a metaphor for their journey. True to our hunter-gatherer roots, we are constantly scanning for threats and opportunities. If your talk doesn’t reveal an opportunity after a few minutes, your listeners will stop paying attention and resume scanning. Share your personal story quickly, then vote yourself off the I-land and explore the world in a You-boat. One of the great storytelling challenges is to tell your story about the listener.
When addressing the audience, use “you” language. Speak to each individual in the room, not to the group. Guests in the room may not feel like they’re part of the group—because they’re not. If attending your program is compulsory, some in your audience may blame the group for forcing them to listen to you. Address the birds, not the flock. Each individual heart must be won. Your job as a speaker is to activate each person in the room.
The following phrases lump individuals into a collective. The members of your audience (notice I just referred to them as individuals) are likely to lose focus and let someone else in the room pay attention and answer your questions.
- “What do you all think about…?”
- “How many of you have experienced…?”
- “Who among you has ever…?”
Ask questions that address each individual in the room as a singular entity. Prompt each member of the audience to think, “The speaker is talking to me.”
- “Have you ever…?”
- “Imagine you’re…”
- “Did you know…?”
Use “we” to be inclusive when talking about fears, weakness, and doubts. Let the audience know you’re “in the trenches with them.”
- “We all have obstacles to deal with.”
- “Each of us must battle the voices of self-doubt every day.”
- “We must all dedicate ourselves to…”
Consider the following sentences from earlier in this article. Did you catch the switch from “you” to “we?”
Talking to YOU: When talking about your own experiences, use “I.” Listeners will follow your story as long as you don’t wait too long before making your journey a metaphor for their journey.
Talking to WE: True to our hunter-gatherer roots, we are constantly scanning for threats and opportunities.
Talking to YOU: If your talk doesn’t reveal an opportunity after a few minutes, your listeners will stop paying attention and resume scanning.
Be conscious of the way you manage the relationship between you and your audience during every part of your speech, article, or book. How many books have you abandoned because the story or the information offered just “wasn’t for you?” A standing ovation may feel like a collective response, but it only happens when enough individuals in the room are inspired enough to leap to their feet. If you’ve read this far, it’s because you perceived that this information is relevant to you.
Stories are always about people. Storytellers must always be about people, too.