In this interview, Joel Schwartzberg dives into what makes a speaker direct, transparent, purposeful, and inspiring.
About Joel Schwartzberg
Joel is a leadership communications coach. His clients include American Express, Blue Apron, Blue Cross Blue Shield, State Farm Insurance, the Brennan Center for Justice, Comedy Central, and the American Jewish Committee. He has previously held senior-level communication and editorial positions with Time Inc., PBS, and Nickelodeon.
Joel’s newest book is The Language of Leadership: How to Engage and Inspire Your Team. His last book, Get to the Point!: Sharpen Your Message and Make Your Words Matter was praised by authors like Seth Godin, who called it “a manifesto for giving talks that make a difference.”
Read the Transcript
This transcript was auto-generated from the original video recording using Otter Voice Meeting Notes. While the transcript has not been human edited, we hope it will still help you to quickly find or reference useful information from the interview
Deliberate Leaders I am your host Allison Dunn, Executive Coach and Founder of the Deliberate Leaders podcast dedicated to helping leaders build strong, thriving businesses. Each episode we feature inspiring interviews to help you on your leadership journey. Super excited to introduce our guest today we have with us Joel Schwartzberg. He is a leadership communications coach whose clients include American Express, Blue Cross Blue Shield, State Farm Insurance, to name just a few. He has previously held senior level communication and editorial positions with time, KPS Nickelodeon, he is the author of Get to the Point, Sharpen Your Message and Make Words Matter which my favorite person Seth Godin calls the manifesto to giving talks that make a difference, as well as the author of the Language of Leadership, How to Engage and Inspire Your Team. Super excited to dive in today, how tips on how to make communication more purposeful, meaningful, and inspirational. Joel, thank you so much for joining us here today. Thank you. Well, it’s my pleasure. Excellent. I like to kick these off with a quick deliberate conversation. What would be your number one leadership tip for our Deliberate Leader listeners?
I would boil it down to three words, leaders make points. Now, of course, leaders need to understand what their point is before they can successfully convey it. But this is different from leaders sharing ideas, leaders sharing history, leaders sharing data, leaders sharing information. People look to their leaders to make and defend and prove strong points. And that’s really the bread and butter of what I most often talk about. And if I could share only one thing with leaders, it’s to put that idea in their heads people expect you to be and if you want to have impact, you need to be a point maker.
How can you give us a quick structure on how to actually affect I think that’s such a fantastic tip? How can someone do that?
Right? And I like to work in the world of nuts and bolts. I like to give ideas that just philosophize or coach people on a way to think about something I enjoy tactics. And so one of the tactics I use to help people understand their points is first to understand what a point is not. This is what people confuse points with, they confuse points with topics, themes, ideas, notions, sometimes catchphrases, sometimes categories. So when you ask someone what their point is, they may say my point is podcasting. What have they not told you? They’ve not told you the importance of podcasting, how podcasting relates to their bottom line, the future of podcasting, what kind of podcasting, someone is not actually making a point about podcasting until they say something like podcasting is the mechanism through which we’re going to reach our important millennial audience. Now you’re making a point in argument of proposal, what do I intend to do, and there’s a test that I have in my book, get to the point that I use, that I’m going to share with you because it’s so simple, even children can use it. It’s called the I believe that test. And basically, you take what you think is your point, usually a sentence, and you put the words, I believe that in front of it. Now, if you have a complete sentence, and not a fragment, not a run on something that would impress your fourth grade language arts teacher, then you’re well on your way to making a point. Now we need to just tighten that point and learn how to champion that point. But if it is not a complete sentence, then you need to reimagine it. So it fits that framework. So for example, let’s go back to let’s say leadership. I believe that leadership, not a complete sentence, not a point. Even I believe that the importance of leadership, not a complete sentence, not a point. But when you say I believe that leadership involves listening to your employees. That’s a complete sentence. And you can just tell by the sense of it by listening to it that it is something that makes you say no on something you want to hear more about. It intrigues you, it interests you, and done in the right way. It will also engage and inspire people.
That is a great tip and a great way to just double check whether or not you’re making your points. Right. Fantastic. Thank you for the structure behind that. I appreciate that. In the intro of us connecting there was some surveyed research That was provided. So I’m just gonna quickly read that. And then I’d like to kind of dive into that. So the survey done by Brunswick group said 92% of workers reported that leadership that communicates directly and transparently, is what keeps them on the job bested only by pay and ability to move up. So 93% of workers, I wonder what the other 7% want, it makes you wonder, right? in evaluating people that maybe you’re coaching or working with, or the work that you do, how do you help people identify whether they’re communicating directly and transparently? And I know, both of those are clear words to me. But how do we how do we help them get there?
Right? And I’m glad we’re asking this question. Because often you could say to someone, Hey, can you speak more directly? Can you speak more transparently? And they’re like, all right. How do I start? Often we ask people to some more like a leader, or to sound more confident.
I’ve heard that so many times, my boss said, you know, I’m being told I need to sound more like a leader. I mean, that’s great feedback. Right?
Right. But how is that actionable? Right, so let’s take a let’s take that apart. And look at both elements of it. Being direct is understanding, for example, that not only that less is more, as writers know. But that more is less. When you add ideas to your point, your brain might be thinking, well, it’s like a Christmas tree, the more glowing things I put on it, the more details, it’s great for this, it’s great for that, here’s some way we can use it in the past, present future, it makes it more valuable. But what you’re actually doing is making it harder for your audience to process it. When your audience has multiple ideas, they compete with each other for their attention. And in that competition, the impact of each point is actually diluted. So I often say if you say a lot of things, your audience will remember none. If you say some things, though, remember some, if you say one thing your audience will remember all. So a big part of being direct is about being concise, boiling it down to your most important and most impactful point. Now when we talk about being authentic or transparent, transparent to me, I’m moving into authenticity. Because this is what we want. When something is transparent. We want someone to be real. Now authentic. And ways to create authenticity, often involve making sure that you never say anything, or commute and communicate anything. That doesn’t sound like you. A lot of leaders have speech writers and I know all about that world, or they have committees of people that are doing the editing on just one email. But number one for leaders making sure it sounds like them. A number two, I’ll give you one more tip on that is to remove the script, whenever anyone is reading to their audience that they’re no longer presenting, they’re performing. And they could read to themselves, they could read to their pets, a true communication is recognizing it’s a live environment. And right here, right now, in real time, I am making a point to you, I am not reading to you. I’m not talking about something I prepared a several days ago, it is also very hard to express emotion while you’re reading something that’s two very different things. And your brain has trouble toggling between those two things. So do not go in with a word for word script, go in with the most important points that you need to convey.
I think when I think of some great leaders, like there’s a storytelling component where you bring someone along on a journey, but that also reminds me a little bit of describing the Christmas tree. Right, right. So how do you how do you balance that because I personally appreciate a story as long as I can apply it and get the point of it. So I think, you know, you’re like kind of driving it back. What’s the balance,
Right? And stories are very important and they connect to authenticity. That’s another great way to be authentic is to tell a personal story, because only you can tell that personal story. But here’s the interesting thing about storytelling. You know, you can go to conferences about storytelling. You could read entire books could Google it. Story, story, story, story story. But to me, here’s the most important part of the story. It is not the story. It is the part where you say this story is important because this story illustrates why we must. This story is a case study proving that if we do X, it’ll lead to Why? Because you don’t want to just tell a story. That’s riveting. You want to tell a story that’s relevant. And the only way to do that is not to rely on your audience to extract that relevance. But to say it explicitly with those words I just said, the story I just shared is a great example of shows why we must, illustrates the obstacles in front of us, and how we can overcome them. Those are the most important parts of the story, because that’s where you attach relevance. And that’s what your audience, your teams, your employees are looking for statements and points of true relevance. Fantastic, good stuff.
I know that you have some tips on what’s the one thing that every team member wants to hear in leadership, communication, and how to express it correctly, give us some tips.
Well, there, there are a number of things. But we often confuse them with other things. We sometimes think that audiences want to be entertained, or they want to be informed. But the big things they are looking for, and I think one of the biggest things is vision, a future a description of what is at the end of this road, what will it take to get there? And why is that an important for us, this is the one thing that often falls into a leaders job role, and not unto other people’s job roles, like a subject matter expert, or someone in charge of data is truly the job of the leader to paint that picture of the world we want to live in, if we all do our jobs correctly, and together. And so I think that the iteration and the description of that vision of that future is really critical and something that all employees are looking for, from their leadership, because that leader is driving the boat. And usually it’s only the driver, who knows where they’re where that boat is head.
And yeah, in the work that I do, it’s I think it’s always a challenge for how often do you describe that vision and how you how often you do that. And so I’m I say you can never, you can never share enough that this is how we’re achieving the vision. Then articulating a vision concisely like I think that’s also another challenge that I see a lot of companies come up with is how clear is their vision? And how quickly can it be articulated? Do you have any guidance around that?
Right, I think it goes back to the basics have a point. You want to be specific, like one of the things I often say is try to avoid badger actives, whether you’re talking about your vision, or you’re talking about hope. These two things are connected in terms of the one thing you want your audience to receive. We often use words like, well, this is a great way to get to that point. This is an awesome or very good approach to reach our goals, or our goals are awesome. And I see this all the time, because especially when we tweet, it’s easy. It’s easy to throw in these badges in words that are so broad, that they have very little meaning. And what does it mean for something to be great to be terrific. And by the way, what is terrific to you, Allie may not be terrific to me, or important to you may not be important to me. Now, here’s how to overcome those Badgett tips so that you’re expressing that hope, and expressing that vision? Clearly. You ask yourself why? So I made a statement that this approach is great. Why is it great? Well, it’s going to make our process more efficient. So we could put more money into r&d, and guarantee your future. Uh huh. So we know that this process is great, because it does this, it makes us more efficient. Now, you don’t even need the great word anymore. So instead of going from A to B to C, to SCO from A to C, this approach will make us much more efficient. And when we’re efficient, we can use those resources to really guarantee a positive future for the entire organization.
Okay, so I think that’s a that’s a excellent way to tie it back in and have it have a meaning behind it and what I mean by it when you’re very specific and meaningful meaning, yeah.
So there’s a lot of talk about, you know, motivation and inspiring and all the things that we can do as a leader. So I think I’m gathering from you like, if you at least, I believe you can’t really motivate people motivation has to come from within, but right. It’s our job as a leader to inspire. How can a leader be inspirational or inspire others? What are some tips around that?
Right, so we talked about being specific We talked about being concise. Often it involves putting your reputation on the line and using phrases like I recommend. I propose, I suggest leaders inspirational when that leader is not afraid to put something out there, because that’s what people expect from their leaders. But only here’s one mistake I see leaders making when they think they’re being inspirational. And they’re not. And that is this idea that information alone is inspiring. If I give you the history, and the data and how much money is involved, and how big the investment is, and how many places we’re going to open up around the country, and then say, thank you very much. I’ve described all the content, as if it were inventory. But I’ve never said to you, here’s what that will do for us. Here’s why this will bring us success. And it’s in that moment that you create inspiration, where you’re saying, this is how we’re going to use this information, to achieve this vision to achieve our goals. Sometimes I have clients who sell things, they sell posters and hats and pins, and I say, all right, give me your best sales pitch. And they say, all right, well, you see this hat, I can give you six colors on your logo and this hat, and an elephant could stop on this hat. And it won’t question. This pen is very special. There’s a special nanotechnology where it’ll pierce your clothes, but it won’t pierce your skin, you’ll never cause bleeding. And I’ll give you two logos for free on that all over. And she did the whole inventory. And when she was done, I said, Did you sell me on your point? And she said, Yes, I described everything often as leaders do. I described the inventory, and the history. And I said, You know what, I never heard from you. I never heard you say that if I buy your product, I will be more successful. And that was her point. And that’s what I mean by the language of leadership, we often use it in this phrase of sell me the pen, right? Am I going to talk to you about this pen being blue ink with this kind of cap or this kind of price point. But really, how is the pen an instrument or communication? So at the end of the day, what leaders really need to do is not think so much of their communication as content, or information or even education. It’s about making a point, what is all that content lead up to? Where will it bring us? And how will you take us there? Good.
Another angle, and the communication that we find leaders do is that they don’t focus their communication on their team, right? Or their audience, but instead on themselves. So right, could you could you give us some insights on that and why it is so important. where to put the focus?
Sure, a lot of my clients who are leaders, they start a communication by saying, what should I say? And that can open up anything, right? Because there are lots of things that our leaders want to say. But they never compare what they want to say to what their audience to things wants, and needs to know. And at the end of the day, you could speak to your blue in the face. But if you’re not connecting to your audience, if they’re not buying what you’re selling, let’s put it that way. What’s the point? It’s not a contest to see what you can say? It is truly a moment where it all depends on what your audience what your team what your employees receive, and what they will do with it. Will it have an impact on them? And I want to I want to explore that word impact means will they think, a new or do something different as a result of that communication? So we talked about the wrong question. the right question is what does my audience want to know? And what do they need to know? Then leaders? When they answer that question, they can work backwards and decide well, what is in my knowledge base? Or what is in things I know that they don’t, that will answer those questions for them that will satisfies satisfy their need. And their want. Often I separate communications into two things a need to know and a need to know. And sometimes we focus a lot on the need to know a little details or drama, or funny things or entertaining things. Those should fall well beyond the need to know and a good exercise is actually separating those two things. Maybe with the help of your executor Team, what is truly need to know what matches their what they want and need to hear? And what is neat to know something I maybe found interesting. Yeah.
If you have a diverse audience that you’re speaking to, what guidance can you do to make sure that you’re, you’re applying the right message and but not watering it down for someone else?
Right? You do need to understand your audience. And one of the ways that take place, one of the things that leaders and speakers need to do is know Do they understand already a certain level of what I’m saying. So I don’t need to be redundant or don’t need to give them the, the one on one on what this information is going to go to a higher level. And then also understand the different experiences of that audience in terms of their job roles. There are a lot of specific elements that go into this. If you’re thanking people, make sure you’re not leaving someone out. And appreciate everyone in your audience. Do not use gender specific language. A lot of leaders still go Hey, guys. Hi, guys. Thanks, guys. Know, it’s only need to elevate past that these days. And finally, we need to record recognize that people learn and receive information differently. I get a lot of feedback that my advice on PowerPoint is old school, we shouldn’t use PowerPoint anymore, PowerPoint is dead. And I counter that with one idea. And that idea is this. You know what, I’m a visual learner, I need the visuals to reinforce what you’re saying. If I just hear it, I won’t process it, as well as if I see it for that reason alone. That is why visuals help reinforce a point. So that is another way of recognizing different learning styles and your audience. So you can reach each person at a level where they’re best able to receive your points. Yeah.
I do like the fact that you’ve talked because there’s lots of different ways to communicate. And when you eliminate, you know, whether it’s auditory or whether it’s visual, or whether it’s kinesthetic, important it is to include all of those if you can, it went right? Even though it’s an extra step to some people. It’s super important, right?
And make sure, like I said not to be exclusionary, whether it’s banks, or whether it’s just making your point, find ways, you know, it’s a leaders job to bring everyone together. But everyone’s on the same page and united in a purpose. So find ways to talk about that purpose in ways that are inclusive, inclusive in every way possible. Yeah. Excellent point. Why should leaders focus on solutions versus problems? Right? It’s imagined. Yeah. And we often feel like we need to dive into the challenge as leaders. This is where we’re headed. Maybe because we don’t think our employees understand the true challenge, or we want to prepare them for not reaching our goals or realigning our goals. But I believe that it is the job of the leader, to be the person who sells the solution, not over focuses on the problem. Imagine that the leader, again, is the you know, I’m not a guy keep going to these both things. But imagine that’s for me, I says, so anything that you know, gives it you know, back to that I’m good. We’ve all seen the Titanic. So imagine that you’re the captain of a ship that’s taking on water? Do people on the boat really want to hear how high the water is getting? And how far are we from land? Or do they want to hear? What instruments can we use? Or what ideas can we put together to find our way back home safely. And even though that Titanic trip is an extreme example, I think it truly applies. And we talked before about what people expect from their leaders. They expect their leaders not just to dive into the problem, but to point the way out of that problem, or 2.2 ways we can add our way out of that problem. So even if there’s not a clear solution, saying this is what I propose making it a point, I propose you form a committee of our best thinkers on this subject, and maybe bring in people from the outside or specialists to create three to five recommendations to get us out of this mess, and to put us back on the track of success. See, then that’s not even a solution to the problem. But a roadmap for a way to get To the solution to the problem in a leaders ability to kind of identify maybe proposing a solution, have you ever encountered that they are trying to address the wrong problem with a solution? And how do you get to the bottom of it, and then clearly identify the solution that is proper.
Right? I have clients who are leaders who believe that an audience of employees value the same thing, as an audience of the board of directors. And there’s, you cannot take that PowerPoint from class A, and do the same thing for class B. So when it’s about finding the right problem that you want to focus on, it’s really about understanding your audience, your team, and the challenge that they’re facing, not even the challenge that you’re facing. I meet some leaders who like to talk about all the professional development and coaches they have and what they’re trying to overcome personally, nobody really cares that much, really, I mean, yeah, that’s nice. And maybe you get some authenticity points for that. But at the end of the day, they’re more interested in the challenge that I’m facing as an employee, not necessarily the challenge that you’re facing as the executive. So by any means possible, whether it’s surveys, whether it’s direct conversation, whether it’s meeting with department heads, find out the biggest challenges that your team and your employees are facing, and calibrate your communications, so that you’re not guessing as to what the challenges are, or you’re focusing on the challenges for the big organization and the executive leadership team. It’s really all about helping employees overcome the challenges, they feel large and small. Either you’re going to do it yourself, or you’re going to work with your HR team to address those challenges. But you’re right, focusing on the right challenge is crucial, because we’re focused on a wrong challenge. There’s no relevance and people are going to tune out. Even worse, you may lose reputation points, because you’re not connected to what your team is most interested in overcoming. So yeah, job. One is always recognize what that audience and I come back to this time and time again, what they want, and what they need. And then create your communications to met.
Fantastic tips. Just want to make sure if there were any tips I’m leaving on the table, so are there any additional ways that leaders can improve the effectiveness of the meetings that they’re holding and how they’re communicating in those meetings?
Yeah, the last thing I would say is really about that meeting place, because there’s an instrument of the meeting that sends leaders and only leaders in the wrong direction. And that is the agenda. The agenda is a list of topics that points and leaders ideally bring points into a meeting. They don’t just say, Let’s talk for a while about our financial state. And hopefully someone will have a good idea, right? No, a point is, I believe that this approach will help us save money. So we can put more resources against this special project. I’d like to hear some feedback on that. And that way, you generate feedback that makes sense, but just spitballing and having ideas bounce off the wall and do basic brainstorming. brainstorming is a brainstorm. But a meeting is a meeting. And so a leader in addition to the agenda needs to prepare what are three to five points that I want to make to my team and get feedback on because again, that’s what they’re looking for me for, to provide direction, to share our goals, and to propose ideas that get us there. A meeting as a way to discuss those ideas, those points, not just to single out about the topics on the agenda.
Fantastic Joel, great tips you’ve shared here today. I definitely want to make sure that I give my listeners opportunity to find out how to follow you or connect with you.
Sure. So the best place to go is to go to WWW dot Joel schwartzberg.net because I like to make my work. Open code as they say it. I like to give it away. So if you go to Joel Schwartzberg dotnet, you’ll see all the articles that I’ve written. I’ve written for Harvard Business Review of it for Fast Company. I’ve written for Toastmaster magazine, all the different ways that and techniques really, that help you be a champion of your points. All my podcasts are There, and basically a list of visual tips are up there as well. Now those visual tips I share on Twitter as well and I really invite people to join me on twitter at the Joel truth, the gold tree. And I make it my job there to share as many communications leadership Communications and Public Speaking tips that I can, because I get no greater satisfaction than helping people become stronger creators and stronger champions of their most important ideas.
Fantastic. I will make sure that I include the links of the things that you’ve just mentioned in our show notes. Joel, I can’t thank you enough for joining us here today and deliberate leaders and sharing all of your tips. Thank you. Thank you so much, Alli. Absolutely. Listeners I have a quick ask of you if you found today’s topic helpful to you. We’d I would love if you would leave us a review on our on your favorite podcast listening channel. And when you do that, we will sign you up for a free gift. We will provide you a one year membership to the world’s #1 business book summary service for leaders. It’s our gift to you for helping to help you stay on top of the latest ideas decide on which books you’d like to read and actually spend your money on. So go ahead and leave us a review today. And thank you so much.