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The importance of starting from Why

Simon_book Here is a good recent TEDx Talk that was delivered simply and effectively with nothing but a flip chart and a pen for visuals. The idea that the presenter Simon Sinek was talking about is very simple and not really new perhaps. But it's always good to get a reminder of what is important. I could quibble over some things in the talk — Apple's success (now) is of course more complex than he implies — but the essence of what Simon expresses concerning the importance of Why is quite true. I'm certain if you watch this talk it will get you thinking. Simon goes in depth with the idea of starting with why in his book Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action. Watch his TEDx Talk below.

Starting presentations from Why
Simon's simple but very important idea can be applied to many challenges we have, even the construction of a good presentation. In Presentation Zen I said that most ineffective presentations could have been prevented if the presenter had just asked two important questions before he began to prepare: (1) What's my point? And (2) why does it matter? Most presenters focus only on the what (information, data, more information...more data just in case) and then spend some time on the how (often resulting in the creation of typical bulletpoint driven ppt slides), but almost no time is spent really thinking about the Why. The Why is were we should start almost all projects, including presentations.

Why_chart If you think about it, we don't ask Why enough. "Why am I spending loads of money and time on a college education?" Or "Why do I really want to pursue that job or why am I sticking with this one?" Thinking deeply about the Why is not an abstraction; it's fundamental. In life, and in business, we spend all our energy thinking and talking about the what and the how, complaining about what we don't have and what we'd do if we did. We rarely spend time thinking deeply about the why. Why are we doing this? Why does it matter? Why is it important (or not)? What is the meaning in the whole scheme of things? Part of the reason we suffer in our professional, academic, and even personal lives is we do not spend enough time first with the Why. How could your work (including presentations) and your life in general be improved if you spent more time first thinking deeply about Why?
NOTE: Follow TEDxTokyo LIve this Saturday (May 15)

Tedxtokyo You can watch TEDxTokyo 2010 Hit Reset live through their web-cast in both Japanese and English at  from 9 AM to 6 PM on Saturday, May 15th. See the awesome list of presenters here. I'll be continuing to work with some of the presenters onsite the day before the event. Please tune in. Last year was remarkable. Follow the TEDxTokyo blog. Follow TEDxTokyo on Twitter. I will also be tweeting live from the event in Tokyo (mostly photos), you can follow me here at @presentationzen.


presentation skills

One of the things that strikes me about getting caught up in the what and the how, and not attending to the why, is that this is often because we are so into getting somewhere, and firefighting, and dealing with the mountain that is on our plate that we don't feel we have the luxury of time to step back. And steeping back is what you need to do in order to ask why. This applies to presentations, and pretty much everything else I do in my job. Great video, and post, thanks.

Houston Spencer

I facilitate a lot of workshops for young folks trying to figure out what to make of their lives. One thing I experience is that some of the distinctions that Sinek makes are semantic. For a lot of the most important things in our lives, the distinction between what and why is hard for folks to delineate. And that can be frustrating for them, rather than helpful.

For example: Some participants in my workshops talk about how important it is to them, in the course of their lives, to be good parents. In some contexts, that strikes them as a "what": to have children and be a good parent. In other contexts, they see it as a "why": because they have values that are about family, children, and good parenting. Debating about whether its a "what" or a "why" can become just a word game if you're not careful.

I like Sinek's idea and its simplicity. It's a good reminder. That said, it's so basic, that it can twist in many ways that aren't necessarily clarifying.

Simon Sinek

Inspire action with WHY.

It's amazing how powerful that one little question is ESPECIALLY in presentations. The front page of any powerpoint, the cover, should tell the people in the room WHY they need to be there. WHY the presentation exists in the first place.

The vast majority of presentation titles say WHAT the contents of presentation are: "How To Write A Better Presentation", for example, and not WHY you need to hear it: "Communicate In A Way That Drives Support for Your Ideas"

This translates into speeches, emails, letters - anything. It's not good enough to have the WHY buried in there - the brain responds better when everything Starts With Why.

Also - thank you for sharing the concept of WHY with your readers. The more people that learn about its existence, the greater the possibility we will all wake up and do the things that inspire us. Thanks again for being a part of the movement.

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