Tips for Entrepreneurs: Using your ‘Yiddishe kop’

Look everyone in the eye and smile and ask them to share their biggest challenge of the week.

July 2, 2012 23:10
4 minute read.
Businesspeople in a meeting

Workers in an office 370. (photo credit: Thinkstock)


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There’s a Yiddish website called, where members congregate and talk about all kinds of things. The variety of forums range from genealogy to business.

While I speak a fluent Yiddish, it is not exactly a website up my alley.

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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 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 challenge.

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 business.

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 level.

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, I went back to to see what he would write for his review of the seminar.

The entire thread had been deleted.

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.

Many 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...

Issamar Ginzberg is a business adviser, marketer, professional speaker and rabbi who has been published in more than 50 business publications.

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