Off the Shelf: What’s In It For Me? (WIIFM)

In The Science of Speaking, I talk about Jerry Weissman‘s idea of WIIFY, which stands for “What’s In It For You?” When making a pitch, you always want to make it clear what’s in it for the audience.

In Whoever Tells the Best Story Wins, Annette Simmons presents a subtle counterpoint to WIIFY. While it’s important to present what’s in it for the audience, she says, it can also be beneficial to reveal what’s in it for you, or rather, “What’s In It For Me?”—WIIFM.

Of course, Simmons is not suggesting that you focus on WIIFM while ignoring WIIFY—that’s exactly what Weissman is warning against, and if you do that, your pitch won’t be nearly as effective. So what is Simmons actually suggesting?

She’s suggesting, as I have in the book, that it’s good to be transparent. In this case, she cites research that shows that when we perceive a deal to be unfair, we’ll refuse to take it, even if it’s to our own detriment.

For example, in the experimental setup known as the Ultimatum Game, one participant is offered a reward and asked to split it between themselves and another participant—however they want. This means they could propose a 50/50 split, an 80/20 split, or even a 100/0 split. The catch is that the other participant gets to decide whether to accept the deal, in which case the reward is split along those lines, or to reject the deal, in which case no one gets anything.

If humans were economically rational beings, we would expect people to accept anything other than 100/0—even 1% of a reward is better than nothing, after all. But in practice, this isn’t what people do. In general, people tend to reject offers below 30%. Even though it means they lose guaranteed money, they do it anyway to punish their partner for making an unfair proposal. People don’t like to be used.

Back to Simmons’ WIIFM. If you don’t reveal this yourself, she says, the audience may wonder what’s in it for you, and reject your proposal if they suspect you may be using them. By explicitly laying out your own motivations, you assuage any doubts that your audience may have about you.

In addition to assuaging any doubts, revealing your own motivations can sometimes help motivate your audience as well. As I note in the book, one good way to find ways to motivate the audience is to think about what caused you to care about your cause in the first place. For example, if you’re motivated by the possibility of saving lives, there’s a good chance that your audience will be as well. By revealing that that’s WIIFY and M, you can make that motivation even more powerful.