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Get to the Point!

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Every time you communicate, you're trying to do something, change something, or move someone to action. 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 points or even understand what a point is, rendering them pointless.

Communications expert Joel Schwartzberg says a point is not just a topic, an idea, or a theme. A real point is a proposition of value. It's a contention you can propose, argue, illustrate, and prove. In this concise and practical book, you'll learn to identify your point, strengthen it, stick to it, and sell it. Whether you want to improve your impact in speeches, staff meetings, pitches, emails, PowerPoint presentations, or any other communication setting, Schwartzberg's novel approach teaches you how to go from simply sharing a thought to making a difference. Which would you rather do?

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12 Chapters

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Contents

ePub

Acknowledgments
Introduction1  The Big Flaw2  Know Your Point3  Make Your Point4  Sell Your Point5  Tailor Your Point6  Stay on Point7  Strengthen Your Point8  Complete Your Point9  Five Enemies of Your Point10  Train Others to Make Points11  Cases in PointConclusion
Recommended Reading

About the Author

Index

 

1 The Big Flaw

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In more than ten years as a strategic communications trainer, I’ve seen one fatal presentation flaw more often than any other. It’s a flaw that contributes directly to nervousness, rambling, and, ultimately, epic failure, and most speakers have no idea that this flaw is ruining their presentations:

They don’t have a point.

They have what they think is a point, but it’s actually something much less.

And here’s the deal:

You have to have a point to make a point.

You have to have a point to sell your point.

You have to have a point to stay on point.

Many articles about public presentation shallowly advise you to “have a clear point” or “stick to your topic” but leave it at that. Nowhere have I seen the critical missing piece: how to formulate an actual point and convey it effectively. It’s like a nutritionist simply telling you to “eat well,” then handing you a bill. Good luck with that.

The stakes couldn’t be higher. Simply put, without a point, you don’t know what you’re talking about. What you end up with—and what we see so often now in many different settings—is too many people making speeches and not enough people making points.

 

2 Know Your Point

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We all know a thing or two about points. After all, we refer to points all the time:

“Get to your point!”

“What’s your point?”

“Please stick to your point.”

Yet all too often, people confuse a point with something else: a theme, a topic, a title, a catchphrase, an idea. We believe a good speech can simply be about supply-side economics, the benefits of athleticism, the role of stepmothers, or the summer you spent in Costa Rica.

But none of these are actual points.

Imagine a child’s history paper on the American Revolution. If you asked him for his point, he might say it’s about the American Revolution.

That’s a topic.

He might also say it’s about George Washington and the Founding of America.

That’s a title.

He might even say it’s about the role of perseverance in American history.

That’s a theme.

But a point is unique.

A point is a contention you can propose, argue, defend, illustrate, and prove.

 

3 Make Your Point

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Knowing your point is a critical start, but still only part of your overall job. The next part—successfully conveying your point—relies on clearly understanding what your most important job is (and what it’s not), and being able to start strong.

When we consider the attributes of “great communicators,” these qualities—and others like them—traditionally come to mind:

Interesting

Informative

Funny

Engaging

Confident

Charismatic

Educational

Exciting

Some communicators focus heavily on creating these perceptions. Their internal voices say:

“I’ve got to start with a joke.”

“I need to share all this information.”

“The audience has to love me.”

But although these are nice-to-have qualities, they play a minuscule role in your ultimate success or failure. Effective communication hinges on one job and one job only:

Moving your point from your head to your audience’s heads.

 

4 Sell Your Point

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When I worked in the editorial department of a magazine for kids, the company’s president decided to have a slick sales trainer teach the basics of closing a deal to our entire staff. He wasn’t Alec Baldwin in Glengarry Glen Ross, but he was close.

Those of us in editorial thought this was an incredible waste of our time—after all, we thought, sales was the focus of our marketing and advertising staff, not the concern of writers and editors.

But, now looking back, I see the president was right. We were all in the business of selling—some of us were selling ad space; others were selling something even more valuable: ideas.

Good ideas, in the form of points, deserve to be sold, not just shared. So how can you make sure you’re truly selling your points instead of sharing them? Read on.

Too many speakers don’t deliver speeches; they deliver book reports. Book reports simply describe who, what, where, and sometimes how and why. These are rarely actual points, yet often treated as if they were. They also don’t necessarily convey the speaker’s stake in the subject, the subject’s relevance to the audience, or the subject’s potential impact.

 

5 Tailor Your Point

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Just like you wouldn’t make a sandwich for someone without knowing what he or she likes, consider the same precautions with your point’s impact on your audience. Some trainers and consultants boil this down to “Know your audience,” but it’s more specific than just knowing who they are and what they know. It’s about knowing what your audience wants from you.

These audience wants vary based on specific settings and situations, and may include the following:

Information

Insight

News or updates

Inspiration

Appreciation

Empathy

Explanation

Comfort

Ideally, the tone of your communication connects with, or at least addresses, your audience’s specific expectation. In other words, don’t be the strategist when you need to be the inspirer. Don’t be the finger-pointer when you need to be the appreciator. Don’t be the challenger when you need to be the encourager.

How do you know you’re being the “right” you? Before every event, ask yourself this: “What does this particular audience want and need from me?”

 

6 Stay on Point

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One of the great benefits of having a point is that you can always call on it to perform a course-correction if you ramble, lose focus, or otherwise leave the planet of your point like an off-course rocket ship.

First, understand that there’s no limit to how many times you can bring up your point or use it to get back on track. Your point can’t be overstated because no one ever says this after a presentation: “Great speech, but the speaker made his point too many times.” That’s like complaining about getting too much good advice.

If you suddenly find yourself lost in space, you can immediately get back to your point using transitions like these:

“My point is this. . . .”

“Here’s the thing. . . .”

“Here’s the idea to remember. . . .”

Just hit the brakes and get back to your point. Politicians do this all the time as part of their jobs. Make it your job as well.

Occasionally, you may find yourself in settings where you feel pressure to leave your point to address someone else’s. It happens most frequently to conference panelists and TV show guests, but it also happens when you find yourself alone with the opinionated dinner guest everyone else is ignoring.

 

7 Strengthen Your Point

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You’ve now identified your point, learned how to convey it and stick to it, and realized the imperative of selling it versus sharing it. That knowledge alone puts you way ahead of your competitors and colleagues.

Now it’s time for extra credit: strengthening your point through key presentational understandings and techniques.

Many people—people you know, people you report to, even people you admire—end their declarations as if they’re questions, using a higher pitch at the end, even though no question was posed. It’s often called uptalk or upspeak.

Listen for it by saying these two sentences aloud, with particular attention to the punctuation:

“Our customer base has tripled in size?”

“Our customer base has tripled in size.”

Some people have an innate ability to end their talks with periods; others can’t help but uptalk everything out of their mouths. It’s not even connected to experience or other communication skill sets. Some of the most accomplished public speakers are chronic uptalkers, and some of the least experienced speakers I know can easily end their sentences with periods. Whether or not you’re a natural uptalker, the habit can be very destructive to the successful conveyance of your point. When you ask a question—even if it only sounds like a question—you’re indicating “I’m not sure.” But when you end with a period, you’re saying, “This I know.”

 

8 Complete Your Point

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When you finish delivering a presentation, the best thing you can end with is your point. It doesn’t need to be your very last line (though there’s nothing wrong with that), but it should be conveyed in your final moments, because it’s what you most want your audience to be thinking about as they leave.

I call this “sticking the landing” because ending on a strong restatement of your point is like an aerial gymnast hitting the mat cleanly, with no extra steps.

When my students don’t stick the landing, they’re often making one of the following four mistakes:

1. Ending with some variation of “and that’s all I got,” including my personal favorite “well, that’s the last slide” (as if the presentation was a grueling endurance test)

2. Ending without conveying or reiterating a final point

3. Mumbling the last line

4. Never ending decisively at all

The last one merits extra emphasis. Why do some people just go on and on and on, as if cursed to do so? Imagine a pizza delivery person ringing your doorbell. You let him in, get your money, and pay him, including his tip. He hands you the delicious pizza . . . then just stands there, not leaving, not moving at all.

 

9 Five Enemies of Your Point

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Even if you master all of these simple, smart, and practical tips, you may still run into some obstacles when you try to deliver your point. We already talked about what to do if someone tries to drag you off your point, but here are some other less-obvious challenges, many of which come directly from you.

We’ve all heard that “less is more”—meaning that concise communications have greater impact. But we should also take to heart the idea that “more is less”—meaning that when we add words, we’re actually subtracting power from our points.

This might seem counterintuitive. After all, aren’t points like houses—increasing in value when we add extensions? Following that idea, many communicators deploy the seemingly innocent word “and” to attach multiple ideas to single points.

The problem is, with each additional “and,” you’re diluting the power of your point by giving the audience other options to consider.

Look at how I started this chapter’s introduction:

 

10 Train Others to Make Points

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No matter where they sit in a company hierarchy, everyone can benefit from conveying real points. So don’t keep these ideas to yourself. Train your staff to identify and strongly convey their own points. Others will notice.

Here are some good ways to start:

When you meet with employees, encourage them to use the point-forcing power phrases like “I recommend” and “I suggest.” If they don’t do it naturally, make a habit of asking them, “What do you recommend? What do you suggest?” Eventually, they’ll get the hint.

Run group exercises in which your staff practices expressing points as “I believe” statements. This is helpful to a group because, in my experience, people learn as much from hearing others formulate points as they do from formulating their own.

Challenge employees to be louder, to embrace pauses, and to find and articulate their highest-value propositions.

Suggest that qualified members of your staff take speaking roles at internal meetings and conferences. Real-world practice builds confidence and strength.

 

11 Cases in Point

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In previous chapters, I covered how to understand, make, and sell your points with the highest impact. Now let’s put all these how-to instructions together by applying them to specific scenarios that represent both unique challenges and valuable opportunities.

There’s a universe of advice on giving a good speech, but now you understand that what’s more important than knowing how to breathe, gesture, stand, and dress sharply is having a real point, using volume, and leveraging pauses. It’s one thing to look like you know what you’re talking about; it’s another to truly convey your point.

Whether you’re sweating bullets or cool as a cucumber, here are a few primary questions to ask yourself.

Many people start the journey of giving a speech by making a terrible mistake: they write a speech, word by word.

The truth is, unless you’re giving a keynote address or using a teleprompter, you rarely need to write a speech.

The biggest reason not to write a speech is that you don’t want to read a speech. Reading forces you to look down often and lose eye contact, and eye contact is crucial to engaging your audience. It’s very hard to read to an audience and come across as heartfelt at the same time. The best speeches make it seem like you’re spontaneously sharing a fresh idea, not reading from a script written days or weeks ago.

 

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