If You Think You Know Your Point, Think Again

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Posted by Joel Schwartzberg - 30 May, 2018

About six years ago, I was among roughly 125 staffers of a major television network, listening to the senior vice president of our interactive department giving a major presentation on… on… on… well, I actually don’t know.  I don’t think any of us knew. Instead of making points, the VP threw out words—lots and lots of words—as he clutched a crumpled piece of paper that I assumed were his notes. I remember the sense of being held hostage while our captor wandered aimlessly through a mess of ideas with no beginning and no end. At the time we were released, I wasn’t just uninspired or bored—I was mad!

Sound familiar? We’ve all suffered through an unrepentant rambler or four, but the problem isn’t really rambling because rambling is only a symptom of a larger handicap—not having, or not knowing, your point.

This is a critical flaw because leaders and communicators without points have, at best, no impact; they are rendered pointless. At worst, they turn their audiences against them.

Having and making points is something we often take for granted, but here’s the thing: while many speakers think they’re making solid points, they often aren’t. They mistake topics, themes, titles, and ideas for points. They’re simply sharing and describing concepts when they should be selling and championing ideas.

So, how can you make sure what you’re saying has a real point? Good news! There’s a hack for that.

How to make sure you have a point

My most valuable communication exercise is also the one I’m happiest to give away because it’s as relevant to students and interns as it is to entrepreneurs and CEOs. This test is designed to quickly determine if you have a point or not. I call it the “I Believe That” Test, and there are three simple steps:

The “I Believe That” Test

Step 1: Conceive an idea you’re likely to share in your professional life.

Step 2: Put the words “I believe that” in front of it.

Step 3: Say it aloud and ask yourself, “is this a grammatically-correct, complete sentence?”

At this point, if you have a complete sentence, you’re well on your way to making a strong point, though some sharpening will likely make it stronger. You can also remove the words “I believe that” or leave them there.

If you don’t have a complete sentence, go back to Step 1 because it’s not yet a point. Restructure your idea until it passes this test.

For example, in applying this test, you can’t say:

“I believe that innovation.”

“I believe that building innovation.”

Or even:

“I believe that the importance of innovation.”

(My grammar check is having a field day!) But you can say:

“I believe that investing in innovation will substantially increase our impact.”

Let’s test this in the context of a realistic presentation. Which introduction grabs your attention more? This intro:

“Today, I’m going to talk about innovation.”

...or this one:

“Today, I’m going to show you why investing in innovation will substantially increase our impact.”

Other prominent leaders and thinkers—much more famous and influential than you or me—have used the “I believe that” test, even if inadvertently, to their advantage:

“I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.”

—Martin Luther King, Jr.

“I believe that the dance came from the people and should always be delivered back to the people.”

—Alvin Ailey

“I believe that, as long as there is plenty, poverty is evil.”

—Robert Kennedy

“I believe that good things come to those who work.”

—Wilt Chamberlain

 “I believe that anyone can conquer fear by doing the things he fears to do, provided he keeps doing them.”

—Eleanor Roosevelt

Each of these people is making a specific argument, not just throwing out an idea or concept—and you should, too.

Add power to your point

To put extra power to the point you want to make, adopt these two point-strengthening tactics:

1. Focus on the “why” not just “what.”

Just as Simon Sinek says! This is represented in the difference between:

“Today, I’m going to show you why investing in innovation is a good idea.”

...and:

“Today, I’m going to show you why investing in innovation will substantially increase our impact.”

2. Simplify.

When you stuff multiple ideas into your point, those ideas will compete with and dilute the impact of each other. Remember that the simpler your point is, the more likely it will be successfully digested by your audience, so convey only one specific point at a time. This is represented in the difference between:

“Today, I’m going to show you why investing in innovation will substantially increase our impact, our reach, our industry dominance, our brand loyalty, and our influence.”

...and:

“Today, I’m going to show you why investing in innovation will substantially increase our impact.”

The bottom line

These recommendations will elevate your presentations not only at conferences and company events but also at staff meetings, brainstorms, sales pitches, partner calls, mother-in-law conversations and any occurrence when successfully selling your point is pivotal to its—and your—success.

After all, you have an important idea—why be its messenger when you can be its champion?


Joel Schwartzberg is the Senior Director of Strategic and Executive Communications for the ASPCA and author of the recently-released "Get to the Point! Sharpen Your Message and Make Your Words Matter." A former national champion public speaker, Joel has been training corporate and individual clients to communicate more effectively since 2006.

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Topics: Your Team, Communication, Engagement

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