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The “W” is Silent – Why No One Asks, “Why?”

Want to make your marketing, event or communication more valuable? Provide content and an experience that people can’t find anywhere else. It begins by asking the most important question.

This is a true story. We were sitting in that strange twilight that’s unique to being backstage during a show or event. John Chancellor was reading through a piece of paper with the notes for his upcoming remarks. The man was one of the most recognizable people in the country at the time. He had been the anchor of “NBC Nightly News” for 12 years and had just retired after 36 years in broadcasting. He was the face of NBC.

John Chancellor wasn’t a “green room” type and sat with me until his introduction as the keynote speaker. We chatted about all sorts of things, mainly journalism. We had both been taught the Five W’s – who, what, when, where and why. That’s what you needed for a news story.

I remember him saying, “The first four are easy. They are just the details. All the value is in finding out why. Meetings like this should talk about why.”

Is Your “W” Silent?

How much do you or the events you manage talk about why? How often do you even ask, “Why?” Many people don’t like asking questions at all – and especially this one. Isn’t it prying? Doesn’t it challenge other people too much? It’s going to upset the client/boss/decision-maker/speaker/customer!

But a wise man one said, “The only people upset by questions are the ones who don’t know the answers.”

Maybe It’s Your Kid’s Fault

I think there’s an easy out on this one. We can blame it on our kids.

Every child goes through the “why stage.” WHY … why … why … every sentence begins with the word. We have triplets at my house, so this became a chorus. So maybe, along the way, we developed a strong aversion to the question. The truth is, you can’t afford to ignore it. Why is one of the most important questions in business.

Remember what John Chancellor said: The first four W’s are easy. Who, what, when and where are just the facts of logistics and execution. It doesn’t matter if you are producing the event or developing the content – those things are details. The devil may be in the details, but an all-details event makes for a boring experience and flat communications.

Why Ask Why?

One of the biggest reasons for asking questions is to avoid assumptions. You can’t afford to assume audience understanding. You have to confirm it. If you are telling an audience something, you have to tell them why it is important to them and what they have to gain or lose. It’s this backstory that lets you deliver value beyond the details. And that makes your meeting a success.

Why are we doing this?
Why is this important to me?
Why should I care?
Why are we doing it now?
Why didn’t we do it earlier?

You differentiate your company and your message through the answers to the question – Why?

Don’t Be Silent, Dare to Ask!

Creating a quality audience experience doesn’t start with staging, speeches, video and media.  That’s where it ends. What makes any meeting, event, marketing or communication valuable is providing content and an experience that other people aren’t providing. If the audience can find your information somewhere else, why have a meeting at all?

Drill down on the “Why” and you’ll discover what’s unique. Knowing “why” puts the emphasis on results. It’s no longer about the product, the sales goals, or the marketing it’s about what the ultimate customer hopes to achieve and how these things make it possible. That should be the focus of your event.

If You Can’t Ask Why? – Ask So What?

A few months ago in another blog, I explained the power of “So What?” It’s one of my favorite tricks to uncover the reasoning and motivations behind meeting content or any communication. You keep asking the question until you’re left with content, messages or marketing that is clear, concise, focused and direct.

Asking smart “why” questions is the key to understanding. It brings you closer to creating content and audience experiences that build relationships. You are giving people what they need. You are talking about “why.”

John Chancellor Explains

And that’s just how the true story ends. John Chancellor went on stage and stood there with his single sheet of paper. He wasn’t a dramatic speaker, but he spoke with such credibility that no one doubted his words. He simply stood there and mesmerized the audience for over an hour. There weren’t any PowerPoint slides, videos, flying words or pictures. There were ideas, explanations and reasons.

Chancellor had literally witnessed history as it was made and interviewed the people who shaped it. He didn’t talk about the details of the amazing things he’d witnessed in his 36-year career. He talked about … the Why.

In the next article in this three-part series we’ll explore what a group of top executives think about questions and why some people are afraid to ask. You may be surprised by what they have to say.

Part #2

If you want to know more about how focus on “Why” and create powerful content just click on CONTACT US and get in touch.

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End The Fear! Six Steps To Asking Smart Questions

The Heartbreak of Questiophobia! Are You Afraid of Asking Questions?


About the Author
Andy Johnston is a multi-faceted communication professional who has a comfortable way of working with people. Andy is an Emmy Award winning communicator known for his energy, humor, creativity and his unique ability to discover the key results that must be generated – and then to develop ingenious ways to engage and motivate audiences. He has broad experience in strategic planning, messaging, creative direction, marketing, and events. One of the things Andy says often is, “How can we make it better?”
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