You and I

Use the word you more than the word I.

Place the audience in the story, encourage them to empathise, focus on your audience not yourself. This advice has appeared in countless articles on speaking, writing and blogging. No doubt you’ve come across it before. But have you ever really applied it to one of your speeches? Earlier today I used this tool to generate a word frequency visualisation of my second toastmasters speech, and got a bit of a shock:

Speech 2 word frequency

The bigger the word, the more I used it. The word I comes in at first place with forty-six occurrences. The word you appears just eight times. Have my speeches been nauseatingly self indulgent and difficult to empathise with? Or perhaps certain parts of my speech lacked the impact they could have made.

This may sound at odds with the common advice that you should use personal stories. Can you talk about an experience from your own life and still use you repeatedly? Adhering to you>I isn’t an absolute rule, but it is beneficial to look for opportunities to reduce the number of Is and strategically insert some yous.

Many uses of I are redundant and add unnecessary repetition. “I think that..” – of course you do, it’s your speech. Just state your opinion. “I did this, I did that” – becomes a bit repetitive after a while. Could you introduce some variety into the way you describe your actions? “I felt frustrated” – is informative, but only has face value. Can we get the audience empathise with us and feel the emotion rather than having to be told about it?

I got some very positive feedback regarding the following line in my speech:

Teenagers are really concerned with looking cool.
How cool do you think I felt on my first day as a teenager?
How cool would you have felt?

Here I was specifically trying to make a story I’d just told relevant to the audience. I’m not citing this as a fantastic example, I probably shouldn’t have waited until the story ended before using you. But I did notice a great audience reaction. People were amused when they imagined the feelings of an uncool teenager, then sympathetic when they imagined themselves in the same situation. There were noticeable changes in facial expression.

We could all benefit by using the I:you ratio is a quick test that our speeches are making an emotional connection with the audience.

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