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The Best Message and the Big Message: 4 Questions to Help You Prepare to Communicate

By Maxwell Leadership | March 28, 2023
The Best Message and the Big Message: 4 Questions to Help You Prepare to Communicate

Dr. John C. Maxwell has been a public speaker and motivational teacher for more than 50 years. In his new book, The 16 Undeniable Laws of Communication, he shares everything he’s learned from a lifetime of communication. This blog post comes from the book’s fourth chapter, “The Law of Preparation: You Cannot Deliver What You Have Not Developed.”

As a communicator, when I prepare for an audience, I am always working on two messages at the same time. The first message is specific to them and the situation. I think of it as “My Best Message” because I want to deliver the best content I can. It’s what every audience deserves. This is the message I prepare on paper to be delivered to my audience. It is the message they want and came to hear. It is specifically created to meet their present need and is intended to improve their lives.

The other message is something I try to deliver every time, everywhere, to everyone. I think of this as “My Big Message,” and it’s always the same. Where My Best Message is prepared on paper, My Big Message is prepared in my heart. It is what the people need to hear. It’s bigger than the content because it’s meant to develop people. It answers four questions I’ve learned to ask myself as a communicator because they frame my thinking and influence my speaking:

  1. What do I want people to see?
  2. What do I want the people to know?
  3. What do I want the people to feel?
  4. What do I want the people to do?

These questions may seem simple, but it took me years to wrestle them down. I worked and reworked them, changed and tweaked them, until my soul was satisfied. For thirty years, I’ve made sure every message I deliver answers these questions.


How we view things determines how we do things. When people see their possibilities, their world expands. I want to help people shift from asking, “Can I?” to “How can I?” Can I? is filled with doubt. How can I? is positive and determined. It is filled with possibilities and encourages problem-solving and action.

Stephen R. Covey wrote about the difference between these two kinds of thinking in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People:

Most people are deeply scripted in what I call the Scarcity Mentality. They see life as having only so much, as though there were only one pie out there. And if someone were to get a big piece of the pie, it would mean less for everybody else… The Abundance Mentality, on the other hand, flows out of a deep inner sense of personal worth or security. It is the paradigm that there is plenty out there and enough to spare for everybody. It results in the sharing of prestige, of recognition, of profits, of decision-making. It opens possibilities, options, alternatives, and creativity.

I possess an abundance mentality, and every message I deliver comes from that outlook. I firmly believe everyone has greater possibilities, and I want to help them see those possibilities.

When we were writing values curriculum for students in middle schools that the Maxwell Leadership Foundation would be using in South and Central America, we felt it was important to teach an abundance mindset to the children. Erin Miller, who helped write the curriculum, said, “Too many kids grow up in a negative scarcity environment where they have never seen their possibilities. Let’s teach and show them who they could become if they develop their potential.” That is a worthy goal of any teacher or communicator.

When you prepare to communicate, do you see people’s possibilities? More importantly, do you help them to see their possibilities?


Many people have been beaten down and discouraged by others. As a result, they don’t recognize their own value. They feel like Charlie Brown, who was continually beaten down by Lucy. In one comic strip, she railed,

You, Charlie Brown, are a foul ball in the line drive of life! You’re in the shadow of your own goal posts… You are a miscue… You are three putts on the eighteenth green… You are a seven-ten split in the tenth frame… a love set! You have dropped a rod and reel in the lake of life… You are a missed free throw, a shanked nine iron and a called third strike! Do you understand? Have I made myself clear?

Lucy’s attitude is like that of too many speakers. She talked down to others. Good communicators talk people up. They believe in their audience, see their best, and encourage them because they see their value.

Because I never want people to miss this, I tell them all the time that I value them. Skeptical people have asked me, “How can you say that when you don’t even know me?”

My response comes out of my faith: “I value you because God values you. He doesn’t make mistakes!”

Valuing others begins with seeing value in yourself. Author and speaker Brian Tracy says, “The more you like and respect yourself, the more you like and respect other people. The more you consider yourself to be a valuable and worthwhile person, the more you consider others to be valuable and worthwhile as well.”

How do you feel about yourself? Do you believe you have value? Do you believe you have something to offer others? Are you willing to believe others have value, and are you willing to express it? If you can answer yes to these questions and focus on people’s value as you prepare your message and as you speak, it will transform your communication.


The purpose of communication isn’t to impress your audience. It’s to empower your audience. You don’t want people coming away saying, “Wow. She’s amazing. She has done great things!”

How can you empower people? Whether you’re talking with two people or speaking to a large audience, do these five things:

  • Embrace people’s potential. I see everyone as a ten out of ten, and I tell them that. You can too.
  • Give people permission to succeed. I try to “open the gate” for them to walk in new territory. You can too.
  • Invite collaboration. This means working together aggressively, as opposed to cooperation, which is merely working together agreeably. People are more likely to reach their potential when working with others. I encourage collaboration. You can too.
  • Encourage ownership. As much as I want people to succeed, only they can make themselves successful by taking action. I encourage them to do that. You can too.
  • Ask them to hold themselves accountable. People realize their possibilities when they are accountable for results. I help them understand that achieving results fuels a cycle of encouragement. You can too.

Empowerment is an incredible gift to give another person. It not only helps people believe they have the freedom to be successful; it also helps them know others want them to be successful and believe they can be.


The speaker’s challenge is to take an audience from know-how to do now. You want to help them apply what they learn and share it with others. I learned this because it was my privilege to be invited at a young age to speak with experienced communicators at Success Seminars. I enjoyed listening to them, was inspired by them, and, along with the thousands in attendance, gave them standing ovations. I learned so much from watching them: I admired their great delivery, unbelievable stories, unforgettable quotes, and hilarious humor. However, after a couple of years on that circuit, I slowly realized that most of the speeches ended with a standing ovation – and nothing more. People walked away feeling good, but the next day, they did nothing with what they heard.

Observing this, I made a decision. I did not want to be a motivational speaker. Instead, I would become a motivational teacher. I wanted people to do more than feel good. I wanted them to go home feeling informed and inspired enough to take action to improve their lives. I still want them to do that now. Not only that, but I want them to share what they’ve learned with others so that they apply and multiply what I’ve given them. I never want them to be like the farmer who was asked by his neighbor, “Are you going to attend the new county agent’s class?”

“Nope,” the farmer replied, “I already know a whole lot more about farming than I’m doing.” What good is being educated beyond your willingness to act?

If I can describe possibilities to people that will expand their ability and capacity, give them a clear path toward these possibilities, help them believe in themselves, and inspire them to act, I can genuinely help them. And that’s what communication is all about.

Are you looking for a way to improve your communication skills?

John Maxwell is one of only eight people on the planet who have been awarded Toastmasters’ Golden Gavel and been inducted into the National Speakers Association Hall of Fame. In The 16 Undeniable Laws of Communication: Apply Them and Make the Most of Your Message, Dr. Maxwell has condensed 50 years of communication experience and expertise into 16 simple principles that will help you move your message farther, faster. If you want to become a more effective communicator, you can click here to get your copy today.

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