There’s a Yiddish website called ivelt.com, where members congregate and talk
about all kinds of things. The variety of forums range from genealogy to
While I speak a fluent Yiddish, it is not exactly a website up
About a year ago, I was giving my first-ever major seminar in
the Yiddish language. (Yes, there is actually a thriving market for Yiddish in
this day and age. In fact, there’s an entire ecosystem of Yiddish-speaking
haredi Jews who are hungry for all sorts of products and services.) Anyway, when
the Yiddish-language media reported about the upcoming seminar, someone notified
me that there was a thread on ivelt.com entitled, “Is Rebbe Issamar a scam?” So,
of course, I visited the site. I found all kinds of differing opinions from an
entire community of people who did not know me but who discussed me as if they
were my best friend. One person actually claimed that I was a son of a certain
rebbe who shares my last name, which I’m not.
Another correctly figured
out who my father-in-law is. It was fascinating and enlightening to read! Much
of the forum discussion was centered around the admission fee of $350 per person
and the advertised “money-back satisfaction guarantee.” Would the guarantee
truly be honored if someone asked for their money back? (Of course.) One person
wrote in the thread, “OK, I’ve signed up for the event. I’ll let you all know
how it went – and if it isn’t all its promised to be, I won’t be ashamed, and
I’ll ask for my $350 back! And you’d bet they will honor my request for a
refund... or else!” Instead of ignoring the thread, my seminar co-presenter and
host of the Kol Mevaser Yiddish-language business show, Lou Landau, and I did
the polar opposite. We emailed his mailing list of thousands of Yiddish speakers
a link to the thread – and showed them that we were enthusiastic about the free
publicity that they were sending our way and that we were ready for the
Later at the event I was standing on stage just as we were
about to begin, when I had a brainstorm.
I quickly made a rough seating
chart of the hall and asked each attendee: “Please share with us why you came
and tell us what your biggest business challenge is.” As each attendee shared
what industry they were in and what they hoped to accomplish, I jotted notes
down on each one.
When someone said something out of the ordinary, we
immediately gave them an insight or technique they could use. That wowed the
crowd with insights that were laser sharp and on target for each
But beyond that, if the anonymous, skeptical poster from the
ivelt forum was in the room, he was no longer simply watching a show as an
observer. Rather, he was engaged with me one on one, on a personal
Five hours later, when the seminar was done, I knew that Lou and I
had truly over-delivered. The same way that bestselling authors can’t help but
read the book reviews on Amazon.com, I went back to ivelt.com to see what he
would write for his review of the seminar.
The entire thread had been
Since then, when the audience and time constraints allow it, I
try to begin my talks by asking everyone in the audience to introduce
themselves. The interaction level is much enhanced, and there is a palpable
difference in audience awareness and participation – even when I’m speaking to
college students who are attending involuntarily and on little sleep! Why does
it work? It works because people want to be engaged. They want to be recognized,
valued and appreciated.
They want to be heard and seen. If you can do
that, even for only one minute per person, you will change the entire mood and
energy of the room.
Don’t just take my word for it. Practice it at your
next staff meeting or even at the dinner table. Look everyone in the eye and
smile and ask them to share their biggest challenge of the week. Listen
carefully and respond with warmth, empathy and answers, if you have them. Then
watch how the mood changes. Practice in small groups, and when the time comes to
speak to a larger group, it will be easy and even more effective.
times when someone challenges or doubts you, all they really want is to be
acknowledged. When you show them respect and acknowledge them and their
concerns, you often make friends and clients from someone who otherwise might
have been seen as a threat.
I’m giving another seminar in New York in
about two months time. I can’t wait to see what the forum posters will say while
they give the event free publicity...
Ginzberg is a business adviser, marketer, professional speaker and rabbi who has
been published in more than 50 business publications.