A few years into my work training leaders and public speakers, I noticed a concerning pattern.
My clients were speaking with conviction, planting their feet, making good eye contact and gesturing with intention. But when I asked them for the point of their speeches, their responses were all over the map — including themes, topics, categories, titles and catchphrases.
What I rarely heard was a true point: a simple proposition that idea X will lead to a meaningful impact on Y.
What do I mean by this? Imagine two presenters arguing for increasing a company's investment in social media marketing.
If you asked for their point, they might say "social media marketing." But that's a topic. Or they might say "the importance of social media marketing in business." But that's a title. Or they might say "the rising phenomenon of social media marketing." But that's a theme.
A point is different. It's a contention you propose, argue, defend, illustrate and prove. The value and purpose is clear, and it lays out a specific and meaningful impact.
To easily elevate a topic, title or theme into a point, I recommend using the "I Believe That" exercise. The most successful speakers use it, and it's incredibly simple:
- Imagine your point — the kind you would make to a colleague, boss, client or partner — as a single sentence.
- Put the words "I believe that" in front of it.
- Ask yourself: Is this now a complete sentence with a clear point?
If you have a complete sentence, you probably have a point. But if you don't have a complete sentence, reimagine the line so it becomes one.
For example, these are fragments, not clear points:
- "I believe that social media marketing..."
- "I believe that the importance of social media marketing..."
- "I believe that the role of social media marketing in business communications..."
(Your fifth grade English teacher would not be impressed.)
But this is a complete sentence, and thus a point: "I believe that increasing our investment in social media marketing will expose our product to more millennials, unlocking new revenue streams."
Here are a few more examples of elevating topics into points:
- Not a point: "I believe that innovations in IT."
A clear point: "I believe that innovations in IT will make us more efficient."
- Not a point: "I believe that inequality."
A clear point: "I believe inequality is America's biggest domestic challenge."
- Not a point: "I believe that investing in infrastructure."
A clear point: "I believe that investing in infrastructure is the best way to prepare for our future."
You don't need to include the words "I believe that" in your point, but consider how that inclusion increased the level of personal conviction behind these three famous points:
Once you pass the "I Believe That" test, use the three tips below to ensure that your point is substantial and relevant:
1. Avoid truisms.
A truism is an obviously true statement (e.g., "social media is popular," "hard work is important," "ice cream is delicious"), so there's no use proposing one as your point.
2. Always include the "why."
"I believe social media marketing is important" is a complete sentence, but it doesn't explain what makes social media marketing important.
When you have a broad adjective like "important" or "great," be sure to include a very clear "why" or a declaration of meaningful impact.
3. End with your highest-value impact.
Is your ultimate objective really higher website traffic, more Twitter followers or taller peaks on a data chart— or are those just milestones toward a more important goal?
Don't sell your point short. To keep your point inspiring, convey the most important impact, whether it's protecting the environment, saving lives or selling more Coca-Cola.
The perils of not having a point can't be overstated. You could be the world's most confident speaker yet fail if you don't know your point, much less make it. Speaking without a true point is also the greatest cause of rambling, low audience engagement, and epic fail.
Remember that getting to your point, making your point, sticking to your point, and nailing your point all starts with one crucial to-do: Knowing your point.
Joel Schwartzberg is a leadership and public speaking coach whose clients include American Express, Blue Cross Blue Shield, State Farm Insurance and the Brennan Center for Justice. He is also the author of "Get to the Point! Sharpen Your Message and Make Your Words Matter" and "The Language of Leadership: How to Engage and Inspire Your Team." Joel has written for Harvard Business Review, Fast Company and Toastmaster. Follow him on Twitter @thejoeltruth.