How to create a short, powerful “Personal WHY” – Bono’s WHY

If you need to inspire and motivate people to take action and/or support your cause – it helps to include a short and powerful  “story” of WHY you are motivated to support this cause.

In as previous post, I shared examples of personal “WHY” Stories of Bono and Peter Gabriel. (Link at the end of this post – if you haven’t read it already)

Bono Africa

In this post I’ll share more on tips on HOW To create an effective Personal WHY story – based on my years of experience helping good causes pro bono.

I have had the privilege to work with very brave young people who dare to share their personal stories to help build awareness and encourage action.

These young people often face one of the toughest audiences imaginable – high school kids!

These brave, young “spokespeople” go in and talk about resources available to help school kids (and other ages to) to help people with a range of anxiety, depression and mental challenges.

I also help these young people handle nerves in “presenting” – but this post focusses on how to create a good personal WHY story.

The same principles apply in talking about other causes such as protecting animals and the environment and a range of other “causes”.

Here are the tips:

  1. You’ve got to hook the attention of the audience. I get the speakers to think what’s a way to start their presentation in an interesting and engaging way. Bono’s lucky – he has fame and celebrity and a pretty cool job to get people to pay attention – but the attention principle applies to non-celebrities too.

To find an exciting hook – I ask the speakers questions such as:

–       Of all the things in your life and background – what would be unusual to your audience and connect with your audience?   What part of you might be considered COOL by your audience

With one speaker it was the fact that he was a skilled circus performer.

–       What is the most “dramatic” part of your story? Start with the most dramatic part.    Many people tell stories chronologically, and to be honest, many stories take a while to build up to the most engaging parts. I encourage speakers to imagine their life or story is a movie and to start with the most dramatic scene – then you can backtrack to how you got to the scene. I get them to think of how many movies start – with a point of drama – then go back to how they got to that point, then continue and resolve the story.

( I am not TRIVIALIZING these people’s stories – I help them tell their stories in the most engaging way – and we’ve had some fantastic improvements by using these techniques)

2.What do you have in common with your audience?

School kids can be a tough audience. They can think anyone “old” (older than them!) is boring and of no relevance to their lives. I used to be the same when I was a student. I personally think Bono is interesting – but to many students he is “an old man”! I have to share with the younger audience  the YOUNGER Bono!

I often give talks to school kids about Bono’s communication techniques – I invest time trying to connect my subject matter BONO – and  also a little bit on me (the messenger) with the students’ world.


Young bono

This image of  early Bono is from an amusing blog. (One of the things I love about the Pro Bono Bono Blog research is finding stuff like this image and pother u2 “fans” around the world!)


Anyway – back to Bono!

I talk about when Bono was their  students’ age (or closer to their age) at school. The importance of friends to get through hard times.

How the guys in U2 (when it was a school band with a different name  – Feedback)  supported each other during difficult times and still do. The power of friendships!

Plus, unusual things like how Bono was a chess champion at school and how he apparently loved drama classes.

How he had a difficult relationship with his dad (a common teenage experience =  difficult parent-child relationships)

I try to start off the talk by first connecting Bono to their world.

I also briefly SHOW the younger student me – rather than the audience  just seeing the “old guy” DAD giving the talk. Plus my haircut usually gets a big of a laugh too! One day that look might come back in!


I always remember a young speaker who impressed me so much. She was a very smart kid from a non-Anglo background. In her personal WHY story, she spoke about the benefits of having parents who want you to have a great education. She spoke honestly about her parents’  sacrifices

Then she moved to sharing about  the intense pressures of having to achieve good marks (more to please her parents than to please herself)

She was now older and had also experienced incredible pressure to perform at university.

This speaker – took time to connect with her audience by talking about experiences many in her audience would have had in common. She was a brilliant (and courageous) speaker. She also spoke about the stigma (especially in non-Anglo ethnic communities) of “cracking under the pressure to perform”. I didn’t now this!

(It was partly her courage and  her fine example that inspired me to want to do more PRO BONO work to help similar young speakers who put themselves on the line to help other kids be aware of support that is available! Her story sticks with me and motivates me every day to do what I do in helping others. That’s the power of a strong personal story revealing your personal WHY!)

3.    Use the I to YOU flip.  


The words YOU and YOUR are some of the most powerful words in language.

When you use the word YOU – the audience members put themselves in your story. It’s natural to start a story with the personal I – but if you stay talking about I and me – the story becomes all about the speaker. The audience can switch off if your I’s are too close together!

Once you have started with the I – flip to the YOU. YOU are still talking about your story – but you are including the audience in the story

So instead of:

My parents were so supportive and made lots of sacrifices and I felt a lot of pressure to perform.

Flip from Me, and I to Your and You.

When YOUR parents are so supportive and make lots of sacrifices,YOU can feel a lot of pressure to perform.

So remember, when YOU are crafting a strong personal WHY story:

  1. You’ve got to hook the attention of the audience.
  2. Think: What do you have in common with your audience?
  3. Use the I to YOU flip.

If you haven’t already experienced the Personal WHY stories of Bono and Peter Gabriel – I encourage you to check them out. Here’s the link:


Also, a friend sent me a link to a powerful TED talk about a Kenyan woman’s initiative to bring better education to Masai Girls. Her personal WHY shines through in her talk.



If you or a good cause you support could use some pro bono help in how to use Bono’s techniques please feel free to contact me.

Don’t be afraid to ask. The individual organisation workshop sessions are free. I just need to schedule sessions to fit in with my international “paid” corporate work. When I speak at a larger conference-type event I just ask that organisers donate an amount that they can afford to the ONE Campaign (set up and supported by Bono of course).


The positive side of being a word nerd


Also, if you know a high school that could benefit from a session on Bono’s use of words – please let me know. I have to fit my pro bono work in with my “paid” corporate consulting work.

I’m based in Brisbane, Australia – and I often travel for work to Sydney and Singapore.

There’s also the potential to travel to other parts of Asia-Pac and the US for my work too.

So What is Pro Bono Bono?

In a nutshell:

1. A dedicated Bono/U2 fan who loves to help organisations with pro bono (for good/for free)

2. Communication coaching  for good causes combines professional skills with passions

Communication Coaching + Pro bono helping good causes + Bono’s inspiration and example = Pro Bono Bono

You’ll learn how to improve the way you Present and Persuade by using communication techniques effectively used by Bono.


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