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I was helping a client with a story he planned to tell as part of his presentation.
“You know what this story needs?” I said. “This story needs some schmaltz.”
He gave me a confused look.
“You don’t know what schmaltz is?” I said. “It’s the good stuff. It’s the fun details and background that you add to make the story come to life. All good stories have a little schmaltz.”
Schmaltz Adds Flavor
First a little background for those of you who, unlike me, weren’t blessed with a grandmother that spoke Yiddish.
Schmaltz is Yiddish for rendered chicken fat. It’s a traditional part of Jewish cooking in part because it is a kosher substitute for butter when cooking meat.
More importantly, schmaltz makes food tasty. If your “Bubbeh” (Yiddish for grandmother) wanted to give you something delicious, she would spread salted schmaltz on a bagel (Don’t knock it if you haven’t tried it).
When I tell people to “add schmaltz” to a story, I mean that they need to add the tasty flavoring that fills out the tale and makes it more interesting to the listener.
You “schmaltz up” a story by adding spicy details.
Let’s say that you’re trying to convince a colleague about why you should hire a particular person. You might tell the story as follows:
I interviewed John the other day and was extremely impressed. He was in the top 10 percent of his class at Harvard. He has great work experience and he’s outgoing. I think we need to hire him.
That’s fine. But it’s a little dry. It doesn’t really give you a true feeling for John. If you add some schmaltz– the fun details that make the story come to life – John’s true value comes to life.
I interviewed John the other day and I was impressed. Of course, he was ranked 11 in a class of 100. But he’s not just an academic tool. When he first sat down in my office, he asked about that photo I have showing me with Clint Eastwood. We got into a conversation about what he did for a Hollywood talent agency. He told me about attending parties with people like Michael Eisner, Jack Nicholson, and Ron Howard. He really drove the conversation. It was impressive.
The schmaltzy details about how John drove the conversation bring to life the idea that he is outgoing.
Schmaltz can make a legal argument more compelling.
Or let’s say that you’re making a legal argument. You could say, “The defendant damaged my client by negligently driving his car into my client’s store window.”
Consider adding some schmaltz to give the story more impact.
The defendant was driving down Peachtree Street and took a cell phone call from his friend to discuss their plans for attending an upcoming Falcons game. While looking down at his phone, he drove up on the sidewalk and crashed through a store display window, knocking over a manikin and scaring the customers on the busiest shopping day of the year.
Be careful not to overdo it. Too much schmaltz draws out the story, tries the audience’s patience and, as every bubbeh knows, overwhelms the taste of the bagel.
Joey Asher has worked with thousands of business people helping them learn how to communicate in a way that connects with clients. His new book 15 Minutes Including Q&A: a Plan to Save the World from Lousy Presentations” is available now. He is also the author three previous books including “How to Win a Pitch: The Five Fundamentals That Will Distinguish You from the Competition”, “Selling and Communication Skills for Lawyers” and “Even A Geek Can Speak.”