I was helping a banker with a story he planned to tell as part of his presentation. Â Â
â€œYou know what this story needs?â€ I said. â€œThis story needs some schmaltz.â€
He gave me a confused look.
â€œYou donâ€™t know what schmaltz is?â€ I said. â€œItâ€™s the good stuff. Itâ€™s the extra details and background that you add to the story that makes the story come to life.Â All good stories have a little schmaltz.â€
If you want your stories to sing, youâ€™re going to need some schmaltz.
Schmaltz Adds Flavor
First a little background for those of you who, unlike me, werenâ€™t blessed with a grandmother that spoke some Yiddish.
Schmaltz is the Yiddish word for rendered chicken fat.Â Â For Jews who keep kosher, schmaltz substitutes for butter when cooking meat. Â Thatâ€™s important because, as everyone knows, butter makes everything taste better.
And if your Â â€œbubbehâ€ (Yiddish for grandmother; rhymes with tubby) wanted to give you something delicious, she would spreadÂ salted schmaltz on a bagel (Donâ€™t knock it if you havenâ€™t tried it).Â In other words, it adds flavor.
When I tell people to add schmaltz to a story, I mean that they need to add the flavoring that fills out the tale and makes it more interesting to the listener.
You â€œschmaltz upâ€ a story by adding spicy details.
Letâ€™s say that youâ€™re trying to convince a partner to hire a new employee.Â Â You might tell the story as follows:
I interviewed John the other day and was extremely impressed.Â He was in the top 10 percent of his class at Harvard. He has work experience before business school in the entertainment industry and heâ€™s outgoing. I think we need to hire him.
Thatâ€™s fine. But itâ€™s a little dry.Â It doesnâ€™t really give you a true feeling for John.Â If you add some schmaltz– the fun details that make the story come to life â€“ Johnâ€™s true value comes to life.
I interviewed John the other day and I wasÂ impressed. Of course, he was ranked 11 in a class of 100.Â But heâ€™s not just an academic tool.Â When he first sat down in my office, he asked about my photograph showing me with Clint Eastwood.Â We got into a long conversation about what he did for an entertainment talent agency in Hollywood.Â He told me about attending parties with people like Michael Eisner, Jack Nicholson, and Ron Howard.Â He really drove the conversation. It was impressive.
The schmaltzy details about how he started and drove the conversation bring to life the idea that he is extremely outgoing.
Of course You donâ€™t Want too Much Schmaltz
One of the challenges with schmaltz is how much to add.Â Too much schmaltz can be distracting in a story. Â Letâ€™s say that you were trying to get your partner to hire John and added too much schmaltz. Â It might sound something like this.
I interviewed John the other day and I wasÂ impressed. Of course, he was ranked 11 in a class of 100.Â But heâ€™s not just an academic tool.Â When he first sat down in my office, he asked about my photograph showing me with Clint Eastwood. Then we got into a long conversation about what he did for an entertainment talent agency in Hollywood.Â He told me about attending parties with people like Michael Eisner, Jack Nicholson, and Ron Howard. Â He told me about a time he went to a basketball game with Sean Penn and Penn told him about his favorite musicians. It turns out that Sean Penn loves Yanni and Billy Joel. Who knew?
The extra details about Sean Penn are probably too much schmaltz.Â Those details are gossipy. But they do not add much about the worldliness that makes John attractive as a candidate.Â The details also drag out the story.
Ultimately, how much schmaltz to add is a judgment call that takes practice.
Next time you tell a story, Â donâ€™t just narrate the dry events.Â Fill it out with a little schmaltz. Youâ€™re bubbeh will be proud.