In the public speaking workshops I’ve been conducting for more than ten years, we spend a lot of time focusing on the single most important element of success: Identifying and effectively conveying your point. It’s actually more challenging than it seems because most people confuse a true point with an idea, a theme, a title, or a catchphrase. Traditional point-making role models help, but it’s hard to adjust your workweek communication needs to the powerful styles of a Martin Luther King, Ronald Reagan, or Michelle Obama.
But now there’s Taylor Swift. Like we do with most superstars, we hold Taylor to high standards of entertainment and low standards of citizenship, much less strategic communication. We’re used to entertainers giving pointless, rambling talks or reading stale jokes from Teleprompters during award ceremonies. And I certainly wasn’t thinking of Taylor as a master communicator when she dazzled my kids and me at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey in 2013. We were too busy dancing to “22.”
But defending herself in a groping case this week in court, Taylor proved – and not for the first time – that she understands the key principle of having a point and nailing it. Witness some of her sharp-as-a-dart statements:
“I’m critical of your client sticking his hand under my skirt.”
“I know it was him. I thought what he did was despicable.”
“I am not going to allow your client to make me feel like it is any way my fault, because it isn’t.”
Keep in mind that Taylor maintained her composure – and more importantly, her message focus – while being peppered with antagonistic questions by a defense lawyer. But while sites like BuzzFeed, Slate, and Bustle high-fived Taylor for her fire and fury, I believe her biggest social impact came as a direct result of her remarkable ability to make clear points.
This is not just a standout shining episode. Look at Taylor’s speech accepting the Grammy Award for “Album of the Year” in February 2016 – a moment I often share during my workshops. She said (without reading from notes):
“As the first woman to win Album of the year at the Grammys twice, I want to say to all the young women out there: There are going to be people along the way who will try to undercut your success, or take credit for your accomplishments, or your fame. But if you just focus on the work and you don’t let those people sidetrack you, someday when you get where you’re going, you’ll look around and you will know that it was you and the people who love you who put you there, and that will be the greatest feeling in the world. Thank you for this moment.”
Consider the foundational elements of her address:
A clear and singular point.
A meaningful value proposition.
And a relevant WIIFM, or “what’s in it for me.”
For even more evidence of Taylor’s prowess, look at some of her previous public quotes:
“We don’t need to share the same opinions as others, but we need to be respectful.”
“Rebellion is what you make of it. When you’ve been on a tour bus for two months straight, and then you get in your car and drive wherever you want, that can feel rebellious.”
“When you hear people making hateful comments, stand up to them. Point out what a waste it is to hate, and you could open their eyes.”
I’m not saying Taylor Swift is our modern Khalil Gibran or Abraham Lincoln, but we underappreciate her – certainly as a role model – if we think of her simply as a celebrity who “speaks from the heart.” Professional communicators can learn a lot from her, especially if you’ve got a strong point to make, and want to leave your audience with more than just a blank space.
Joel Schwartzberg is a strategic communications coach, award-winning public speaker, executive communications executive, and author of “Get to the Point: Sharpen Your Message and Make Your Words Matter”