Crafting Good Calls to Action: The pronoun choice we can all agree on

A call to action is the cornerstone of many impactful speeches and getting the “who” right is critical. Aligning the pronoun we use, you or we, with the call shapes the communication and ultimately how well your message comes across.

Should you say “we” or “you”?

The pronoun you need for public speaking

The right choice of words is vital to pass a message and make your audience feel they are part of the speech. Public speaking is all about connecting with your audience. We align our body language and words to create the connection. Yet the choice of how we address the audience has an often overlooked impact on the relationship with the message.

The way you talk to the audience, how you address them and the pronouns you use are essential. They are a central piece in establishing this connection, as well as, for its quality.

What difference does the pronoun make?

The way you talk about yourself and the group, especially the particular word choice, may not seem that important, especially while you’re panicking about all the information you must give the audience and how to do it. However, this detail can be as vital for the success of your presentation as the information you’re about to give.

You may not notice immediately, but it says a lot about yourself, and your audience is very aware of it. The way you choose to address them tells the audience who you are and the kind of relationship they can expect from you.

You, you, you

Imagine you’re a team manager who wants to tell your team they have to do something. For a second, think about it as a member of the audience. Would you prefer to hear, “You must do it.” Or “We must do it.”?

If you use the word “you” too much, the audience will feel that you´re demanding something from them and putting yourself at a different level. The same happens if you constantly say “I” during your speech as if only you and your opinions and actions matter. This has a severe risk of sounding aggressive and arrogant.

However, let’s stop for a minute. Don’t cut the “you” out of your speech yet!

There are circumstances when using “you” is vital to reach the audience. “You” is the right word when you want to enlighten the audience challenges, needs, hopes, and fears. In that case, you’re putting them first, you’re seeing them, you care about them. Every audience member will feel as if you’re talking directly to them.

“We” are one

When you use the word “we,” you put yourself at the same level as your audience, and that’s a good start. You are a part of the group. You have something in common with the audience – it may be their values, history, or concerns. Whatever it is, it makes you one of them.

“We” is the word you want when there is a shared challenge or goal. For example, when you want your team to act in a specific way – you must do it too. That’s how you transmit leadership. Using “we” is a sign that you have a common purpose and commitment.

This is also the word you want to use when you’re trying to unite with your audience as the opposite of a different group — we vs. them.

Yet, if you are a manager and you’ll have no part in the task you’re giving to your colleagues, take a step back before you say “we”. If the audience doesn’t see you as a part of that group (the one who will perform the task), they can feel irritated by your statement.

Words That Bind

The choice of words has tremendous power in public speaking. It conveys information and shapes the audience’s perception and engagement.

Whether it’s “you” or “we,” thoughtful pronoun selection impacts on your call to action and can elevate your entire presentation.

Cátia is a psychologist who is passionate about helping children develop and train social skills.