Do you know how to make a point? How can you compel your audience with your point?
No matter who you are or what platform you’re using, compelling change begins with making a point. Joel Schwartzberg’s book Get to the Point! gives advice for identifying what you want to say, and then discussing what to do with it.
Read below to learn how to make a point with Schwartzberg’s advice.
Principle 1: Identify and Hone Your Point
Schwartzberg defines a “point” as an assertion that you can clearly state, explain, and support. However, he says, many people have only a vague idea of what they’re trying to communicate when they start talking, which makes it impossible to convey their message powerfully enough to accomplish anything.
Avoiding this pitfall and getting your point across requires learning how to make a point, then effectively marketing it in a way that resonates with your audience—whether that’s a handful or a roomful of people.
Schwartzberg offers a three-pronged approach to help you 1) determine if you have a point, 2) make your point stronger, and 3) hone your point by centering on the statement, “I believe” and the questions, “So what?” and “Why?”
(Shortform note: The key to Schwartzberg’s method, as we’ll discuss, is specificity. Whether you’re speaking or writing, precision and clarity are critical to communicating your message in a way your audience can understand.)
Step 1: Determine Whether Your Point Is a Point With “I Believe”
Schwartzberg says your first goal is to figure out whether your point is actually a point. Can it be stated, explained, and supported—or is it just a vague topic? The statement “I believe” can help you.
First, think of a point you’d like to make, then fill in the blank at the end of the phrase: “I believe that [fill in the blank].” Does your sentence make sense? If it doesn’t, your point isn’t a point, and it needs to be reformulated.
“I believe that teacher shortages,” is not a point because it doesn’t make sense as a sentence.
“I believe that teacher shortages will lead to long-term problems in the public education system in the US,” is a point because it makes sense as a sentence (it’s a complete thought).
The first example simply named a topic; the second example specified what you think about that topic. Your audience can engage with the second idea, but not the first.
Step 2: Strengthen Your Point With “So What?”
After you’ve identified your point using “I believe,” Schwartzberg’s second step is to formulate it so it’s as strong and effective as possible. To do this, ask the question, “So what?” You’ll know your point is weak if you’re stating a broadly agreed-upon truth that can’t reasonably be challenged, therefore the response would be “So what?” For instance, a statement of “The sky is blue” or “Ceiling fans circulate air” would certainly receive a confused response of, “So what?” from your recipient. In contrast, you have a strong point when a reasonable argument can be made against it, and some analysis is required to defend it.
Point: “Madonna is a pop star.”
- Can a reasonable argument be made against this point? Not really. It’s a broadly agreed-upon truth, and the response would be, “So what?”
- Is analysis required to defend this broadly agreed-upon truth? No.
Stronger point: “Madonna redefined the music world by shattering traditional ideas of how women should present themselves.”
- Can a reasonable argument be made against this point? Maybe. Someone might argue that other women before Madonna redefined pop music, like Grace Jones.
- Does defending your point require analysis? Yes. You’d need to present more information to defend your argument.
(Shortform note: If you’ve ever taken an English class, you probably learned how to identify, strengthen, and hone a point, but you may have forgotten how. It’s essentially the same as writing a thesis statement: First, choose a subject you’re passionate about that has credible research to defend it. Next, write your topic as a question, then answer it to more clearly define your statement. Finally, edit and revise your statement using bold, clear, direct language.)
Step 3: Hone Your Point With “Why?”
Having strengthened your claim using “So what?”, Schwartzberg’s final step in making it effective is to hone it by making it as specific as possible. He says you can sharpen your point by asking “Why?” This question helps you clarify your argument, which in turn allows you to weed out unnecessary language that distracts from your core point.
How to use “Why?”
- Say your point out loud: “I believe that training our dog is important.”
- Ask the question, “Why?”
- Answer the question: “Because it will allow us to take him to the park without worrying that he’ll bite someone.”
- Combine your first and second sentences: “I believe that training our dog is important because it will allow us to take him to the park without worrying that he’ll bite someone.” (Your point is now stronger, but wordy.)
- Remove the fluff by eliminating the unnecessary adjective of “important”: “I believe that training our dog will allow us to take him to the dog park without worrying that he’ll bite someone.”
Principle 2: Present and Drive Home Your Point
Now that you’ve identified and honed your claim, you’re ready to market it. Schwartzberg says the single most important goal when presenting your claim is to make a strong pitch that resonates with your audience.
Step 1: Understand Your Audience
To make a strong pitch or presentation, you first have to know who your audience is and what they want from you, so you can tailor your message, language, and tone for them.
For example, if you’re giving a speech to students at an all-boys high school, your delivery and the stories you use to illustrate your claim should be relevant to them, and should be different from how you’d convey your message to a roomful of female entrepreneurs. With the first group, you might take the tone of “coach” or “mentor,” while the second group would appreciate your talking to them like a peer.
Step 2: Pitch Your Point Powerfully
Once you understand your audience, the next step is to make a powerful pitch. Schwartzberg argues that you must actively market your point to your audience; a casual conversation with them about it isn’t enough. He recommends seven strategies to keep yourself and your audience focused on the claim you’re there to make:
- Silence your inner critic
- Choose the first word you’re going to say and lead with it
- State your point, and the consequences of not supporting it, using clear, direct language
- Project confidence
- Eliminate physical distractions that disrupt your connection with the audience
- Speak up
Principle 3: Stay Laser-Focused on Your Point
Once you’ve driven home your point, allow nothing to distract you from it. Schwartzberg argues that your point is your grounding and guiding principle—the thing you should always come back to if you get lost or distracted.
For example, if someone challenges your claim or asks you to respond to something unrelated, and you get confused or rattled, Schwartzberg recommends turning the conversation back to your point with a directive statement, such as: “Here’s the point…” or “The most important thing to focus on is…” followed by your point.
(Shortform note: Though it might seem less obvious, your physical comfort also plays a role in your level of distraction. Before your presentation, try to find out whether the room you’ll be in will have heat or air conditioning, and select your outfit accordingly; make sure you have a glass of water available in case you get thirsty; and if you absolutely must use the restroom during your presentation, be prepared to show a short video that’s relevant to your point, ask a colleague to step in momentarily to talk about a related subject, or announce that it’s time for a “comfort break.”)
Principle 4: Conclude by Restating Your Point
By now you know and have honed, marketed, and resolved to remain focused on your point. Schwartzberg says your final step is to close your presentation with a reminder of your point.
- Restate your idea to give your audience a takeaway message and signal the end of your presentation.
- Give your audience a moment to absorb and react. Don’t muddle or weaken your final message by immediately jumping to “what’s coming up next” or directions to the reception area.
(Shortform note: Earlier, we noted that Schwartzberg recommends making just a single idea in a sentence to focus your audience’s attention on one core message. However, some communications strategists assert that the “rule of three” makes ideas and concepts more memorable and interesting, in part because three is the smallest number of factors that, when combined, create a pattern.)