One of my biggest public speaking mistakes was in 2000 when I oversaw the launch of a major public website. On the day of the launch, I was asked to give a short speech to dozens of people, including my team, my bosses, their bosses, and other executives.

I spoke about how much the moment meant to me, given my professional history and aspirations, and how proud I was to be affiliated with the project and lead it.

When I finished, the reaction wasn't so much "yea!" as "umm, okay."

I didn't inspire my audience, engage them, or even connect with them in a meaningful. Why? Because I asked the wrong question of myself from the very start:

I pondered, "What do I want to say?" instead of "What does my team want and need to hear?"

As a result, my speech was not about the importance of the project, our hopes for its impact, or even my team's contributions--all valuable and compelling stuff. Instead, it prioritized what mattered to me personally above what mattered to them professionally.

Focusing on "what I want to say" versus "what do they want and need to hear" is an enormous leadership communication mistake because there's no point conveying a message to your team if the message has little value or relevance to them. Leaders who focus on "what I want to say" also risk coming across as self-centered or oblivious to important workplace realities and challenges.

But knowing what your audience wants and needs to hear isn't as obvious as it may seem. Let's explore these two ideas more deeply.

"Wants to Hear"

In the context of leadership communications, "wants to hear" means the audience is already aware of the general issue but wants more details or elaboration. Lean on your people managers, internal communications teams, and HR staff for insight into those valued details. You can also conduct polls, solicit questions and concerns from staff directly, and run quarterly meetings with small groups to understand their concerns and ideas.

When you're addressing a "want to hear," you're filling a bucket that already exists.

"Needs to Hear"

"Needs to hear " is a new-to-them idea that can elevate your team's productivity, morale, work/life balance, motivation, or another core value. Your team is unaware of a "need to hear" until you say it, so provide explicit context and the "why" behind the idea. As with "wants to hear," work with other senior executives to determine what your team needs to understand to do their best work. Collaborating with others on this discovery mission will help ensure you're focused on an organizational imperative, not a primarily personal concern.

When you're addressing a "need to hear," you're building a bucket of essential understanding.

"Need to Hear" vs. "Neat to Hear"

Make sure to identify an actual and vital "need to hear " versus a less valuable "neat to hear." To perform that audit, ask: How important and relevant is this message to them? "Very" = Need to hear. "Somewhat" = Neat to hear.

Once you identify and differentiate your "want to hear" and "need to hear," target your communication to hit those points like a bull's eye.

In a recent example, Jeanette, an HR executive I worked with, wanted to speak to her team about a new book she loved that proposes new ways to support remote employees. Jeanette had not raised these ideas with her staff before, and the only rationale in her head for sharing the book was that the ideas appealed to her.

I asked Jeanette, "How would your team benefit from this insight?" She said the ideas could help the company improve protocols to make remote employees feel more recognized and improve their productivity.

Working with that answer, we changed Jeanette's focus from "what I want to say about this book" to "how utilizing new technology and innovative thinking can enable us to better support remote employees." She framed the book as a resource but not as the point itself.

TED Talks are another strong example of communications that emphasize audience relevance over speaker interests. All TED Talk topics target areas of high audience interest, which are typically reflected in the title. You'll never see a TED Talk titled "My Conversation with [Famous Person]," but you'll find thousands of TED Talks about conducting successful conversations.

If you have trouble identifying your team's "want to hear" or "need to hear," asking these three questions can help:

What's the relevance of this communication to my team?

How do I hope my team thinks or acts in response to my communication?

Is this communication something they want or need to hear right now? Why?

The answers to these questions can provide valuable insight on whether to proceed with the communication (this point serves my team's interests) or reimagine it (this point primarily serves my interest). Effective leaders--and communicators--know the difference.