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How to Identify, Sharpen, and Champion Your Most Important Points With Joel Schwarztberg

Every time you communicate, you’re doing it for a reason. You want someone to understand something, do something, or change something. You’re trying to make a point. But the only way to make a point is to have a point. And the surprising truth is, very few communicators know their point or even understand what a point is, rendering them pointless.

 

In this episode, Joel Schwartzberg explains how too many people confuse a point with a title, a topic, an idea, a theme, or even something much less. A point is something more. It’s a contention you can propose, argue, illustrate, and prove. A real point creates a position of value.

 

Joel not only clarifies what a point is, but he also shed light on how to determine if what you’re saying is a point or if it falls short.

 

If you want to more effectively reach your audiences, listen to what Joel has to say.

 

You’ll also learn about:

  • Split ends
  • Badjective … yes, badjectives
  • And how speaking louder helps you and your audience

 

Resources for this episode:

 


 

Peter
Welcome to the Speaker Station Podcast, where each week our guests share their knowledge and experience so you can more effectively speak in front of others. Whether you’re speaking on stage, presenting in meetings, or selling to prospects. I’m your host, Peter George. My guest on this episode is Joel Schwartzberg, currently the Senior Director of strategic and executive communications for a major US nonprofit organization. Since 2006, Joel has been teaching effective presentation techniques to clients including American Express, Blue Apron, Comedy Central, and the Brennan Center. Joel’s award winning book, “Get to the Point! Sharpen Your Message and Make Your Words Matter,” was released in 2017. And his articles on effective point making have appeared in Fast Company, Toastmaster Magazine, and the Huffington Post. A frequent conference presenter and workshop leader, Joel is a former national champion and state champion competitive public speaker. After coaching public speaking teams at the University of Pennsylvania and Seton Hall University, Joel was inducted into the National Forensic Association Hall of Fame in 2002. I’m sure you’ll agree with me that he’s had quite a career in the public speaking arena. Hey, Joel, thanks for being with us today.

 

Joel
Thank you, Peter.

 

Peter
As an accomplished conference speaker, professional speech writer, speech trainer, and of course, the author of “Get to the Point! Sharpen Your Message and Make Your Words Matter,” you’ve seen public speaking from a global perspective. With all that experience, when did you actually get started and why?

 

Joel
Thank you, Peter. I actually got started in a way that most people in my position don’t. My story starts when I was in sixth grade. And I actually started with competitive speech and debate, something that’s actually called forensics — a tiny fraction of your audience may be aware of that — and I just continued with it all the way through being a senior in college. And after all that time, I should have learned something. So I became a national champion in a particular event. And I also went on to coach universities, including University of Pennsylvania at Seton Hall University — their speech and debate, their forensic teams as well. And at that point, when that was all over, I figured I was done with it. I gotten it out of my system, like many people do with their college experiences.

 

Peter
Sure.

 

Joel
But then I realized, Peter, when I interviewed for a job, when I went to a conference, when I made a case to my boss, when I went on a sales call, I was employing a lot of the things I’ve learned in competition. And once I realized that, I knew that 1) it would elevate me in terms of my career, but 2) I can actually share that with people and I really enjoy sharing that with people. So around 2006, I develop this workshop here in New York City and that kind of advanced and with ever course, and this continues. I learned more I considered like an onion in reverse, sort of peeling it, it’s adding layers. And every time I run a workshop, whether it’s a client like American Express or Comedy Central, or the Brennan Center for Justice, I learned something, and it makes the workshop that much better for the next group of people.

 

Joel
And then in 2017, I put it all together in this book, which is a guide and a manual, how to all in one called “Get to the Point.” And my publisher said to me, “Well, you need to stay under 15,000 words, because if you can’t explain concisely how to make a point in your life.” So I needed to walk the walk and talk the talk. So the book was sort of the culmination of that. But as you noted, about five years ago, I was able to bring my day life and my extracurricular life together. And now, I’m the Senior Director of strategic and executive communications for a major nonprofit. So I’m learning as much from my day job writing speeches, writing material, and coaching speakers, as I do from my passion, which is helping other people become better at communicating their most important ideas.

 

Peter
It’s nice when both things come together, isn’t?

 

Joel
Yeah, fantastic. When you … when you connect to your passion and you realize what you’re good at what you enjoy doing, the reality is … the whole idea is how can I spend as much of my time as possible — aside from my family and my cats — to do that. And I’ve literally found that. So I feel very fortunate.

 

Peter
Excellent. Well, you’ve got a lot, a lot of experience a lot to share with our listeners. So let’s get to it. Your books all about knowing and getting to the point. Why do you see that as being so important?

 

Joel
The short answer, Peter, is without your point, you’re pointless. And that’s sort of a phrase but it’s literally true. Even the most professional public speakers if they don’t know their specific point, then they’re leaving their audience with nothing. It’s like a cake that’s just icing without the cake part. Now we think we’re familiar with point because we hear this phrase all the time, “He gets to the point!” “What’s your point?” “Come on, what’s the point you’re trying to make?” You know, we use that phrase. But a point is a very specific thing. And what I found Peter, is that people confuse a point, with an idea, with a title, with a theme, with things that are so general that they’re not actually points. So if you want to make a communication or even give a speech or a presentation, with just a theme, you are almost guaranteeing that you’re going to ramble, and then you’re going to, you know, draw circles around what you’re trying to do, because you don’t know the precise point that you want your audience to leave with.

 

Peter
Can you give us an example of that?

 

Joel
Yeah, I’ll give you an example. Let’s talk about podcasting. For an example. Just picking it out of the air. If you are going to a conference, Peter, or anyone — let’s say a podcaster is going to a podcasting conference — and someone asks you, “What’s the point of your presentation”? and you said, “Podcasting.” What have you really said? What is your opinion on podcasting? What kind of podcasts really appeal to people or to millennials, say? What kind of topics that suit themselves to podcasting” But even more important in any of that, how is podcasting contributing to our society and our democracy and our dialogues? You said none of that by saying, “My point is podcasting.”

 

Joel
So what I want to get people further toward is this idea that I believe podcasting is the best way to teach people about their role in improving our democracy. Now, that may not be your particular point, but you can see how resonant that is and how it might attract an audience because they know exactly where you’re going. Sort of, like my son if he was doing a project about the American Revolution, and I asked him for his point. And he told me my point is the American Revolution. Again, he’s not telling me anything. Even if he said, the importance of the American Revolution. Why is it important? Or how the American Revolution changed society? Well, how does it change society? See, you’re not telling me the one thing you want to deliver to me. And … and that’s critical.

 

Joel
What I often find is that whether you’re saving the world, or saving animals, or trying to sell more Coca Cola, you’re not actually making the point. This is how will sell sell more Coca Cola. This is how more lives are being saved. This is how we’re going to save the world. Instead, we’re talking about general ideas in an audience. If they pull a general idea from you, there’s little they can actually do with that. And the goal of public speaking is that your audience will either think or act on the thing you’re trying to convey to them so that they can themselves be a change maker.

 

Peter
And if it’s too general, they just can’t wrap their arms around it or have any reason to move forward.

 

Joel
Right. In fact, they take nothing from it because it’s a fuzzy idea. So, I when ask them later, what did that guy speak about? He said something about podcasting. And here’s the interesting part, Peter. Often they’ll say, “But you know what? That guy was hysterical.” Or, “She was amazingly intellectual,” Or, “That person was … was so knowledgeable … was a genius.” Well, here’s the thing. What good does that do? What good does it do for a public speaker to be seen as funny except to get that public speaker more gigs? That doesn’t help with the one goal, the single goal of all communicators, which is to move your point from your head to your audience’s head — whether they think you’re funny or interesting or knowledgeable or charismatic or attractive — those things we often ascribe to a good public speaker … those things don’t matter. You’re literally like a guy on a bicycle in New York City, a delivery person. You have this valuable thing called your point you need to know what it is in my book talks about how to make sure it’s an actual point and a sharp point. Then you need to deliver that point. If you do that, you succeed. If you don’t do that, you fail.

 

Peter
To your point about some speakers being entertaining, charismatic, whatever it might be, I was working with someone from a nonprofit here in the Rhode Island area. A mutual friend, mutual business associate, approached me and said, “Hey, I heard you’re working with so and so.” And I said, “Yes, I am.” And she said, “I’m really surprised because she’s an amazing speaker.” And I said, “I believe she has the chops for it … the ability, but why do you think she’s such an amazing speaker?” This woman said, “Well, I saw her last Thursday, and I went out of there thoroughly entertained.” And I said, “Well, what was your takeaway?” And the woman I was speaking to just kind of looked at me like, “Huh.” I said, “And that’s why we’re working together now.”

 

Joel
Right. It’s a different between — I often say — a difference between a performance and a presentation. A performance is trying to make an impression on people or impress them with your talent or entertain. A presentation, it’s much more blue collar — if I can use that phrase. You’re literally taking an idea, and you’re moving it from one place to another. And here’s the thing. A lot of people, a lot of public speakers have great confidence. You know, if you don’t make your point, that doesn’t mean you’re a terrible public speaker, you’re not connecting with your audience, it just means you left out the most important part of it. So when people compare themselves to great public speakers, they don’t look at it like, “Well, how do I get my point across?” They often take away the wrong lessons and think, oh, how can I be funnier? How can I be seen more confident? How can I be, you know, more attractive to my audience? And those are not the right questions.

 

Peter
That makes perfect sense. When people say I’m going to wing it, that must drive you nuts. What are the odds? When someone wings it that they are going to 1) hit that point and 2) drive it home?

 

Joel
Very low. In fact, it’s sure setup for disaster — whether you’re a student or a CEO, you’re literally it’s like going on a trip and not having a map, not even just not having a map, not even having a destination. How would you even leave your driveway without a destination? But that’s exactly what a speaker or communicator is doing when they don’t know their point, or when they think they have a point. And it’s actually just a theme or an idea.

 

Peter
Do you find if they’re looking at it that way where they think they have a point, and it’s just a theme that they’re coming out with a lot of ideas, so much so that they actually dilute what they’re trying to say?

 

Joel
Yeah, that’s one of the big problems. In fact, I call it split ends sometimes. It’s not about shampoo. It’s about this idea that I need to get so many points across because they’re all a value. They see it the speech is like it’s a Christmas tree. The more ornaments I put on it, the more brilliant it’ll be — the brighter it’ll be. And actually the opposite is true. And you sort of were leading to this, Peter, when you talked about dilution, when I tell you this approach is going to be more effective, powerful, successful, meaningful and efficient. The first question is, can you even say back all those adjectives? The second question is, which one of those is most important compared to the others? Because you don’t know because I didn’t tell you. But here’s the really interesting part. Because I’ve given you five things, at one time, they dilute the impact with each other. Each of those ideas is competing with each other for attention. Audiences can really only process one thing at a time. And often what they’ll pull away from a communication is one, two, and then the best of situations, three ideas. So it’s up to the speaker to know what those three ideas are. Because if you give 16 ideas, that audience might take away the wrong one. So you need to really boil it down. IN fact, Einstein said something interesting that I shared my workshop. He said, “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.”

 

Peter
I love that quote.

 

Joel
And that means, yeah, and that means it’s not just about taking away words or less is more. It talks about the hard work that has to go into understanding what your precise point is. And knowing that your job before you stop speaking, is to make sure that point is received by your audience. And one of the biggest tips is to make sure it’s one idea in a very concentrated idea.

 

Peter
Would you agree that many speakers try to add on when they’re creating their presentation they’re trying to add on when they should actually try to take more off?

 

Joel
Absolutely. And you know, what they’re thinking is, they’re thinking that everything comes out of my mouth will be received. Thus, seven things is better than five and five is better than two. This approach has so many things that are great about it, and I’m going to articulate them all. They don’t realize that the audience is really only going to be able to extract … you know, what does an audience do? They don’t just hear. They need to hear it. They need to understand it. They need to digest it. And then they need to make relevance out of it in their lives. That’s a complicated process. So you need to give them the time. That’s the one thing … the time to do all that. But also, you need to hit them with something simple enough so that they could do that. And like we were talking about, if you give them too many things, then you’ve actually given them nothing. Because they’re competing with each other. You’re not giving your audience time or simplicity to make sense of it all. And that audience leaves with nothing and you have failed.

 

Peter
You know, you just spoke about time and I’ve heard so many speakers delivers really solid points, and then immediately draw our attention away from them by quickly moving on.

 

Joel
Yeah.

 

Peter
What’s the best way they can give the audience time to process it, digest it, figure out what they’re going to do with it?

 

Joel
The best advice I give is to realize that the audience needs twice as long to receive your point as you need to say it. Understanding that will force you to slow down to insert pauses, and especially after you deliver your point, to put a pause right there in a moment to allow for that digestion. Now let’s put some color on the example, you gave the hypothetical, let’s really talk about what happens. The CEO is talking. The CEO ends with, “And this is how we’re going to change the world. Now I’ll take some Q & A.” And what he’s done is not given the audience enough time to actually process the big point. I mean, the Q & A, that we’re moving to Q & A is really a tiny thing. You don’t need the audience to know that. They’re not going anywhere. So but what you’ve done is you’ve you’ve really stolen the power and the impact of that last statement by quickly moving to something else. There’s another example of it. “Ladies and gentlemen, this is really how we’re going to change the world. Now I’d like to bring up our next speaker.” And so all of these things that you know, you and I’ve seen it and a lot of people in your audience have seen it. It says it’s the speaker doesn’t realize because they don’t realize that he or she is not allowing that most important thing, the point, to sink in.

 

Joel
So what you really need to do is create basically a chapter break. “This is going to change the world.” Two … three. “Okay, at this at this point, I’m happy to take some questions.”

 

Peter
It’s the power of the pause.

 

Joel
The power of the pause. It’s one of the best things a speaker can use. Their best friend, in fact, is a pause because not only does it put some suspense in there, create awareness, gives you time, but it allows you to speak with precision. Very few people come away from presentation and think well, that speaker was terrific, but she paused too often. It’s because the pauses are moments of nothingness. The audience doesn’t really remember them. So I encourage pausing. Very few people pause so often that they’re noticeable. So I encourage pausing because what it gives you time, but it gives your mind time to do is to create those thoughts with precision. You know, most … for most of us, our mouths are running ahead of our minds. And our minds are trying to catch up and saying, wait, wait, wait mouth, you’re spinning words, but I need to make those words so your audience can appreciate it. So you need to do is change that. And put your mind ahead of your mouth so that your mind can clear the path, decide what words to use, and then your mouth just sort of follows those rules. And the only way you could do that is by inserting pauses which will help you slow down.

 

Joel
The truth is I could just say, well, you need to slow down. They know it, Peter, it’s hard to tell a fast talker to slow down. It’s like telling someone to stop smoking or stop coughing. It’s just … it’s difficult. So what I like to do is insert things that can help them get there. First, so for people who speak too quickly, insert pauses. That will help you slow down. These are the Nicorette moments for for public speakers who have issues. Even I have issues. I’m a fast talker. I’m from New York. It’s … it’s my biggest problem I’m trying to overcome. So I do two things. I insert pauses as much as I can. And I also try to speak loudly, which is critical and not that well known as a public speaking device. Because I know if I speak loudly, I just won’t have enough breath to speak quickly at the same time.

 

Peter
Well, on that point right there about speaking loudly. Would you agree that an audience sometimes conveys or determines your confidence, put it that way they determine your confidence, based on your volume?

 

Joel
Absolutely. Not just your confidence, but your competence, your authority, your credibility, your experience. I run workshops where people are generally either talking at a general normal conversational volume, or sometimes are quieter. And I forced them. I say, listen, I want you to tell me your name, your title, maybe your point, but do it weirdly loud … inappropriately loud, uncomfortably loud. And finally get them to do it. And then as the rest of the people in the room I said, What changed as a result of this person merely raising volume? And what I get back or adjectives like strong, knowledgeable, experienced. All these positives come out of it.

 

Joel
And here’s the interesting thing. You know, sometimes we want our leaders to sound more confident. We want them to sound like leaders, but those aren’t actionable words. How do I sound like a leader? How do I even sound more confident if I have confidence issues? But even children know how to be louder? So sometimes I get pushback on this, but I encourage everyone to aim for not just louder but too loud — like no one’s internal controls are going to allow them to really go ridiculously loud. So if you aim for too loud, then all those good things come from it — not just audibility, but absolute impressions of confidence, competence authority. People who start sounding like interns, later sound like middle managers. Middle managers, by raising the volume, suddenly they sound like vice presidents even though they haven’t changed the content at all.

 

Peter
Joel, in one of your explanations, you use the word adjectives. And in your book, you use a word that I absolutely love … badjctives. Can you explain that to us?

 

Joel
Sure. A badjective is an adjective that’s so broad, that’s so general a descriptor, that it serves you no true impact whatsoever. These are words like or phrases like very good, great, awesome, even interesting. Ladies and gentlemen, this approach is awesome. This program, this campaign, is going to do very good things for our organization. What are you saying? Yeah, there’s a slight positive sense on that, but you think you’re saying something magical. But it’s so broad — so general — and here’s the thing, what may be interesting or fantastic or great to one person could be completely different for another person. You may be missing the mark entirely. So I encourage people to just make … take note and be aware of when you say something is very good, very, something is awesome. I see it a lot of time in my job and a lot of time in my practice. People say, “All right, well, this idea is is great.” And I say … what I respond with is the answer to this problem, which is the word, “Why.” So if you have parts in your speech or communication, even your email that says this is very good, ask why. What’s very good” Because this is the best way we’re going to reach our goal of tapping into this particular audience. I say that’s fantastic. Now you’re telling me something. Why don’t you get rid of the great part and just go right to that? So you don’t say, this approach is great because it reaches this audience. You say, this approach will reach this particular audience. So you actually identify the badjective. You ask why, and then you remove the badjective. So you’re going directly to your point. This approach will make us much more effective.

 

Peter
Well, I think we can all relate to that. Because I know at least with me, when I do a presentation, if someone says, “Hey, great job!” my first thought is, “I missed it.” They can’t tell me, and to your point, answer the why. They can’t tell me why it was a good job. They just being polite

 

Joel
Right.

 

Peter
I cringe when I hear that, not because of them. Because of me. What did I do that they didn’t get the takeaway?

 

Joel
Right. And if someone’s rehearsing in front of a bunch of colleagues, and they asked a colleague, how was that and the colleague will most often say I thought it was great. You’re giving them no information. And here’s the important part. For a public speaker or a communicator, the only way to know if you had impact if you’re successful — that is to know that your point was received by your audience — is to go up to someone in the audience and ask this question, “Did you receive my point? My point was this. Did you receive it?” Or if you really want to challenge yourself, “What do you think was the point I was trying to convey?” And if they can repeat it back to you, that’s the ballgame right there.

 

Peter
That’s tremendous feedback.

 

Joel
Here’s the reason I … yeah … here’s the reason I actually discourage people sometimes from from practicing and mirrors or sometimes even watching themselves on video. Very few people look at themselves in the mirror practicing or watch themselves on video and ask, “I wonder if I’m making my point effectively?” They’re too worried about the how shiny your teeth are, the tie you wore, or the way you’re … you’re, you know, not standing up straight, everything but the critical question. So you just have to whether you’re asking it of someone else, who you’re asking it of yourself, the question is, do I know my point? And … and am I conveying this point, effectively?

 

Peter
Well, Joel, I really appreciate the time you’ve had spent with my listeners and me. Before you leave, how can our listeners learn more about you and of course your book, “Get to the Point!”

 

Joel
Sure, thank you, Peter. The … the best way to find out more about me and my work, and this idea of being a champion of your point, is to go to www.JoelSchwartzberg.net. That’s JOELSCHWARTZBERG.net. Not only can you link to all the places you can get the book, including Amazon, and all your favorite bookstores, but also see articles I’ve written, see the things I’m sharing on Twitter. I invite people to follow me on Twitter and follow me on LinkedIn and things like that. Because I love sharing this information. And I do as much of it and as many channels and platforms as I can. This platform I use most often to get out my ideas is Twitter. And I didn’t say my Twitter handle which is TheJoelTruth. The best way to get it all in one place though, is by getting the book “Get to the point!”

 

Peter
I can vouch for that. Joel, thanks for being with us today. I wish you the best and continued success with “Get to the point!”

 

Joel
You too, Peter. Thanks a lot.

 

Peter
Well, there’s another one in the can as they say. Well, they actually say that for movies, but anyway, it still works. Join me next week one another guest shares, tips, techniques and ideas that will help you be a more compelling, more effective, confident public speaker. In the meantime, I’d appreciate it if you could subscribe rate and review the speaker station podcast on iTunes or wherever you listen to your favorite podcast. Until it together again, be happy and healthy, my friend.

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