Brian Burkhart: 0:02
As I walk back to the exit of the room, I see something that I have not yet seen since, and that was three conference attendees with name badges on. They had the lanyards that said, "Joe Blow." They had made a decision to get out of their chairs, find themselves on the floor and quite physically, lay down and take a nap during this guy's keynote presentation.
Steve Brown: 0:00
Brian Burkhart: 0:24
And when I saw that, it really hit me because I had been on the front side of this event. I knew all the months of effort, of planning, all the energy, all the time, all the money that was put into making this thing come together. And if you think about those, let's call it 500 people, that got on airplanes, that chose to get away from the people they love most to go to a foreign place to try to learn exchange ideas. And it fell that flat that people chose to sleep during the top doc's keynote, I knew something had to change.
Steve Brown: 1:04
Hi, everybody. Welcome to the ROI Online podcast, where we believe you, the courageous entrepreneurs of our day, are the invisible heroes of our economy. You not only improve our world with your ideas, your grit, and your passion. But you make our world better. I'm Steve Brown, and this is a place where we have great conversations with winners just like you while we laugh and learn together.
Steve Brown: 1:33
So welcome, everybody back to the ROI Online podcast. I'm just really excited about our guest today. Look at that big smile on the other side there. And the orange! You got the orange.
Brian Burkhart: 1:48
You like my pocket square?
Steve Brown: 1:49
You're on point. But before we tell you who this sharp-looking young man is, I want to ask my audience a question. Have you ever watched Shark Tank? Think about what's at stake if you were to walk out and face the sharks. Did you know that if you were able to appear on an episode of Shark Tank, the odds of you growing your company revenues over 250% the next year would just be average? Many experience much, much more. But when you think about what's really riding on your performance in front of a crowd—any crowd be it a Ted talk, a presentation at a conference, to a speech at a local business club in your city—why wouldn't you want to position yourself to really nail it and own it? Possibly millions could be at stake.
Steve Brown: 2:47
So guess what today's guest happens to do. That's right. Our guest works with business leaders just like you to help you win when you have opportunities that could possibly change the course of your company. He also happens to be an Amazon No. One Best-Selling Author, and his book is titled "Stand for Something." He is the founder and Chief Word Guy of Square Planet Presentations and Strategy. Please welcome Brian Burkhart. Brian. Thank you.
Brian Burkhart: 3:21
Steve. That is a heck of an intro, sir. I like it. You're hired, sir.
Steve Brown: 3:25
Brian Burkhart: 3:27
Hey, I have a question before we really get into this.
Steve Brown: 3:29
Brian Burkhart: 3:30
Can I just call you Moby? Would that be okay?
Steve Brown: 3:32
Moby. Like Moby the singer
Brian Burkhart: 3:35
Steve Brown: 3:38
Moby the artist?
Brian Burkhart: 3:39
But you look just like him. I mean, you're a doppelganger. It's perfect.
Steve Brown: 3:42
Well, good. Because Moby successful, I'll take it.
Brian Burkhart: 3:46
I mean, he's cool too, So I mean, it's a moniker that I think should stick.
Steve Brown: 3:50
He's Moby Brown.
Brian Burkhart: 3:52
Steve Brown: 3:53
There it is.
Brian Burkhart: 3:54
Maybe you just go by Schmobe
Steve Brown: 3:58
Brian Burkhart: 3:59
We'll stick with Steve. Steve! Steve! We're gonna go with Steve.
Steve Brown: 4:02
All right, let's go with Steve. So many of you that listen to this podcast know that story is very important. It plays a significant part in our lives. Everything that we do and in life is around the story whether we know what or not. So one of the things that I wanted to do is first let's develop the backstory to Brian Burkhart. So, Brian, tell us a little bit about your backstory. But before you go, I wanted to say in 1980, 1981, we were doing something very similar. You were giving a speech to your fifth-grade class to become class president in 1981. And I was doing the same to my...wasn't fifth grade, I was a little ahead of you...my senior class in 1980. Or actually, I did that speech in 79. Anyway, years don't matter.
Brian Burkhart: 4:59
I thought you were going to say the same thing that we were gonna be doing was wearing parachute pants and trying to do Michael Jackson's moonwalk. But no, it was running for office within our own little respective school system.
Steve Brown: 5:12
Yes, that's what...We were trying to change the world, even at that time and in our lives. So let's give me a little backstory to Brian, please.
Brian Burkhart: 5:21
That's a heck of a setup, and that really is where it all kind of started for me. Steve. So the truth of the matter is, is that I am not a huge guy. I'm like 5'7'' and I'm not the Dwayne the Rock Johnson, and I'm at best an average athlete. And even as a little kid, I was just average when it came to things like sports and other stuff. And so I had this really unique experience that I remember very, very vividly, very deeply that I wanted to be the student council president. And so my running mate was my best friend, a guy named Jim Leonard. It was just his birthday last week. I texted him and wish him a happy 50th. I'm dating myself, but as a couple of little guys, we decided to do this thing, and I remember getting up in front of the whole school. I was running against two girls and I know their names. I won't...I'll protect the innocent.
Brian Burkhart: 6:08
But I was little, right? I mean, I was a tiny little dude and I walk up to the lectern. It's not called the podium, by the way. It's a lectern, and I pulled the gooseneck Mike all the way down it. Krrrrt! Creaked all the way down. The whole school starts to laugh, and then I, in my moment there, just sort of run with it. And I knew my material and I was able to deliver it, and I was able to handle in a good way the laughter and the small thing. And in that moment, I felt the power of communication for the very first time. And I knew before I ever left that little dais I knew that I was gonna win the election, and we did. And it was one of those kind of things that that little moment really stuck with me and it propelled me going forward.
Brian Burkhart: 6:55
And so I started doing a variety of things over the course of time to really use that natural instinct that I had, those the skills that I innately carried, and then I really started to fine-tune them and dive into the science as well as the art around it. I've had all kinds of crazy experiences, things like...I drove the submarines at 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea in Walt Disney World down in Florida. I was a game show host for years at McDonald's very famous Hamburger University. I mean, I've done all kinds of things. And so now I get to actually help some of the most incredible, heroic, courageous people on the planet do what's really hard, and that is communicate effectively as business people and ultimately, business leaders. And so the work that I do I like to think of it is very different than public speaking. And how do I stand and where I put my hands. And while that stuff's important, what I do is I help business leaders really, truly develop their voice, their organization's voice. And it makes a profound difference not only in the trajectory of their life in their career, but certainly within the organization itself. It is the thing that marries everyone. We all have to communicate, whether it's email, live across from someone at a job interview, a large conference, whatever it is, we got to talk to each other. And to help people really refine that skill? It's been pretty amazing. It's been a heck of a journey.
Steve Brown: 8:23
You know, Brian, when I think about the people that I follow as far as thought leaders are people where I gained knowledge, they really have that down. I see a speech. I see a, you know, a YouTube video. Or maybe I see him in person, and it's really like they've really spent a lot of time developing that skill.
Brian Burkhart: 8:48
Steve Brown: 8:49
That really helps them connect and deliver their insights way better. And so I'm fascinated by that. You've read the book by Malcolm Gladwell. Or maybe it was...It's "Tipping Point," right? Where he talks about the 1000 hours and how the Beatles, eh? They played in strip clubs for I don't know how many hours.
Brian Burkhart: 9:11
Do you remember Germany of 1962, 1962?
Steve Brown: 9:14
Yeah. So do you think that driving those submarines...You didn't just drive. You were the entertainment on each one of those voyages. Wrong?
Brian Burkhart: 9:24
In part, in partial. Some of it was recorded, but a big chunk was live for sure.
Steve Brown: 9:29
And so you probably did many other things. But how many hours of hustle, of micro work did you do?
Brian Burkhart: 9:37
I'll tell you where it got really interesting. And I did not mention this in my previous answer because it's just a little convoluted. Where I really did the dirty work, where it really got good was I did a ton of work behind the camera. I was a multimedia producer for a decade plus. It was the first business I owned, and it was the kind of thing where companies would hire us to go tell a corporate story in a very finite amount of time. And so imagine things like a big consultancy saying, "We've got a story about five of our offices around the world, all interlinked, that serve a single global customer. We have X small amount of time to tell that story. Go take a video crew, go out, get on some airplanes, and go find that story. Put it together." And I did that kind of stuff for years, and it really was first global. But two big, clunky corporate stories that we're about things like licensing agreements and, you know, stuff, not necessarily exciting things. Right? But here was the producer behind the camera, and I'm hearing all these stories from all these people from all over the world, and I'm trying to link all these disparate elements in my head.
Steve Brown: 10:49
Brian Burkhart: 10:50
And I'm realizing that what I was doing was something called paper editing. I'm like a video editor who now sits at a computer, or before that would actually cut physical tape. What I was doing was in my head with notes going, "OK, if Steve said this, I can connect that with Bob, who said this, and James said this..." And to really make it come together, I would say stuff like, "Steve, that's a great answer, but why don't you try this?" And I would reframe, rework, rethink their answer to these cogent little bits. And so when I got back to my office after being gone for big chunks of time on the road at a time, we'd stitched these things together and they were essentially seamless and our clients would go, "That's perfect. No changes."
Brian Burkhart: 11:35
And so I was really able to get dirty, get my hands dirty by hearing people from all over the world with English very much not as a first language, like, to really listen. I had to really take copious notes to make sure I knew what the full story was. I had to do my upfront work to get as much info going in as I could. And so the dirty work I was doing was really dirty. And what the easy part was was helping them say it better. But the way you describe it, and we've talked about this in the past, there is no substitute for just getting in there and getting dirty. And that's what I did, no doubt about it.
Steve Brown: 12:14
So I think that entrepreneurs go to this process where one day the light bulb comes on, and they almost haven't given themselves permission to own it. But one day the light bulb goes on and they have this epiphany. "I'm really good at this". When did that light bulb happen for you?
Brian Burkhart: 12:33
It's actually one of my favorite stories again. I was a multimedia guy. I'm working at all these different big entities as an outside producer that they would hire. I didn't work for the company; they were my clients. But we would often have to go to meetings and events, large events. And I was at the Del Coronado Hotel. Beautiful place on Coronado Island, just outside San Diego. And, I won't say his name, and I won't say the year because it's now a different person, but at the time, it was the chief medical officer of Stanford University, top doc at Stanford, perhaps one of the best hospitals on the planet. Here's the top doc, and as I am a worker bee type, building these multimedia things, I'm in the front row. And let's call 500 people in the audience were maybe three minutes into this guy's 60-minute keynote. And if there are 10 things that you should do during a keynote, he was doing zero of them. If there are 10 things you should not do during a keynote, he was doing 13 of them.
Brian Burkhart: 13:34
It was the most tragic piece of hot garbage I've ever seen, and I just couldn't take it. I was just frustrated, and so I decided, that's it. I'm done. I'm not gonna sit here and listen to this. So I get up from my seat, front row, and as I walked back to the exit of the room, I see something that I have not yet seen since. And that was three conference attendees with name badges on. They had the lanyards that said, you know, "Joe Blow." They had made a decision to get out of their chairs, find themselves on the floor, and quite physically lay down and take a nap during this guy's keynote presentation.
Steve Brown: 14:10
Brian Burkhart: 14:10
It was unbelievable. And when I saw that, it really hit me because I had been on the front side of this event. I knew all the months of effort, of planning, all the energy, all the time, all the money that was put into making this thing come together. And if you think about those, let's call it 500 people that got on airplanes that chose to get away from the people they love most to go to a foreign place to try to learn exchange ideas. And it fell that flat that people chose to sleep during the top doc's keynote. I knew something had to change.
Brian Burkhart: 14:46
And so right then and there, I altered our business model and actually created a second company, which is now today Square Planet. And what's interesting is that, when that happened, my business had been fine. Everything was good. And it was one of those kind of things that the minute I made Square Planet, this notion of helping people really become true business communicators, it was like the most amazing rocket ship ever. It was just, PHHEW! That side took off. And I think the reason why was because while I liked doing those other things, this thing is why I exist. It's my gift to the world. It's what I can do. And it was just like, but, uh...It was just so perfectly easy. And so it never feels like work. All the other stuff felt like work. This doesn't. It's just the gift I have. And so it's just been something...It's been kind of unbelievable. And that was a bunch of years ago. It's about a decade almost, and so we've been rocking and rolling ever since.
Steve Brown: 15:44
Brian, you talk about that in your book. That's one of the examples in your book that you talk about. And then there's another one you talk about where the... Jim Beam story, actually.
Brian Burkhart: 15:54
Yeah, I took the gloves off in this one.
Steve Brown: 15:56
So, so when I hear you say...So your book is titled "Stand for Something," and I love that and we'll get we'll talk about that a little bit more. But in that instance, to stand for something meant kind of having to have a tough conversation with someone that wasn't listening or wasn't receptive to what you were sharing. Do you want to talk about that?
Brian Burkhart: 16:19
For sure. I think the way I would boil this down Steve, and it's a heck of a thing to bring up, is that not everyone wants to hear what they're doing wrong. And in many ways, much of what I do—although there's a ton of science to it—there is some opinion. One man may say it's great, another man may say it's garbage.
Steve Brown: 16:38
And I hate to interrupt, but it's like... I think it's one of the reasons why we don't lean into getting good at public presentations or getting good at it because we're vulnerable in that moment, and to hear someone bring it is like you're having to admit... And when you're used to being in charge, that's not probably your normal.
Brian Burkhart: 17:02
It's not normal at all. I mean, so we even had t-shirts that say, "Can you handle the ugly truth?" Cuz, it's tough, right?
Steve Brown: 17:09
Brian Burkhart: 17:09
And it's the kind of thing where, if you think about it, this guy in particular, he was the president CEO of Jim Beam—as in bourbon, booze, etc.., big, huge, many billion-dollar global brand. And when he says, "Go," we go. Nobody challenges what these kind of guys say or do. In my job, the reason I'm here is to really swing what I call the Velvet Hammer. I have to hit people with both love, but then actionable insights to make them better. That's why I was hired. And when you get these kind of levels of people, and I work with these people all the time, finding the right balance of how to tell them, "Here some ways to improve what you've done, and here's why it's challenging." Because all they hear is negative and all they hear is, "Who are you to tell me?"
Brian Burkhart: 18:00
So Jim Beam's story is pretty interesting because this guy was just straight up obstinate. He just did not want to hear it. What he kept saying to me is, "You don't understand our audience," And what I kept saying to him is, "No. You don't understand that your audience is made of people, and people are people everywhere. We have issues, wants, needs, desires, etc... And he just would not take my advice. And it was the kind of thing where I really tried every carrot and stick and everything in between. And ultimately, it was the kind of thing where I was like, "You know what? I wash my hands of this one," and he colossally crashed and burned. I mean, it was just epic. And his run, his tenure was brief. He was in; he was out. He was not the right guy for that job. And he has been selected out. He's been liberated to other, greener pastures.
Steve Brown: 18:53
He was set free to flourish in a different role.
Brian Burkhart: 18:57
Yeah, but people are really...It's interesting. I've now learned after all the years of doing this, when people hear about what I do...Even in like this past week, it's end of the week when we're talking. This was earlier this week. I was at a big, large event, and people found out what I do and they said, "Oh, well, can you share with me, your thoughts?" And I say, "Well, be careful. If you really want me to do this, I will. But I want your permission to give you feedback. Because if I just offer feedback, I'm just a jerk." People have to want to hear this stuff..
Steve Brown: 19:26
Yeah, they do. Our jobs are similar in that our mission is to help the people that we really admire to succeed. It was this way 4000 years ago, and it will be this way 4000 years from now. To figure out how to communicate their value to the right audience, you know? But it's intimidating. It's not a natural thing that they just... Or me. I struggled. This podcast is new. I've known I needed to do this for a while and finally pulled the trigger. But it's like we worry about the ugly beginnings. How do you help a business leader think through that and get past that or reframe that perspective?
Brian Burkhart: 20:15
It starts with one thing, and I actually use this a lot. I talk about the Marines, as in the U. S. Marines.
Steve Brown: 20:22
Brian Burkhart: 20:23
I do. They've very successfully had a series of ad campaigns—digital print, very cool short films even—that always end with this incredibly arresting question. And the question is, "Which way would you run?" Which way would you run? And they always show Marines running towards the cacophony of crazy, all the stuff that normal minded people would run away from. And I talk about that because that is a very unnatural act. It's unnatural to storm a beach and go towards the people that are shooting you. And the thing that's interesting is that Marines have been trained like crazy. They're heavily armed. They're focused. They've got a full ray of tools—from helicopters to tanks—an array of tools at their disposal to handle that situation, and they run right at it. They are ready for that.
Brian Burkhart: 21:16
And I turned that around and I say, "OK, in your world, you too do an unnatural act on a regular basis when you put yourself out there in a podcast or a board meeting or a live presentation or a job interview, or sit across from your own team and colleagues at your own company. Every time you put yourself out there—your ideas, your opinions—you are being judged, and to choose to do that is as unnatural as the Marines running towards that fire."
Steve Brown: 21:47
Brian Burkhart: 21:48
But they've been trained, and they're heavily armed. What have you done? And the vast majority of people have no answer. They haven't done anything. And so the work I do is a lot less death-defying and a lot less calisthenic-based. We're not jumping over walls, right? We're gonna talk about the things you believe in, the things you stand for. We're gonna arm you with the right tools and abilities to be able to deal with that situation that is unnatural and put you in a position to be judged. And so for guys like you, the willingness to go out and do a podcast and say, "Let me put myself out there," is amazing to me. I love guys like that. That kind of courage I find to be the most amazingly cool thing on the planet. And could it be better or worse? Yeah, sure. Maybe. But we'll get there over time. But you gotta, you gotta start. And to me, that alone, that's worth something.
Steve Brown: 22:39
So would you agree? You know, when I talk about and I got this from your book. I really believed it, but I wasn't really saying I believed it. But when I got to thinking of the folks that I listened to, they always have these very defined creeds. Read your book. It clicked for me, OK? And so I really believe that the true heroes of the American economy, they're the invisible heroes, they're the entrepreneurs and business leaders that are running these...these smaller businesses, not your GM's or whatever that. I mean, those guys...
Brian Burkhart: 23:11
Jobs like ours, I mean, yeah, well, we have similar-sized businesses. Yeah.
Steve Brown: 23:15
But to do that, you have to have...So when you're talking about the Marines, I think there's a difference between bravery and courage.
Brian Burkhart: 23:25
Steve Brown: 23:25
OK, so to me, bravery is like you practice, you practice, you practice, and you still run into it with that fight or flight. But you've practiced the practice, and so you're still running into a dangerous situation. But most of the entrepreneurs that we work with, I call it courage. It's like you still feel like chicken shit, but you're going to just run and do it cause it has to be done, and no one else is going to do it. And so it's called courage. It's gonna be ugly. It's gonna be messy, but they do it. And here you are. You're taking them and working through a process to where they can build upon that. It's already there.
Brian Burkhart: 24:01
No doubt. We talked about it a lot, actually. It sounds ridiculous. And I'm by no means trying to create a similarity to Michelangelo myself. I am not calling myself Michelangelo. I am saying that what we do is much like he talked about, when you see things like the David in Florence and the very famous quote is, "It was inside the marble. I simply chipped away the parts that need not belong," and, of course, our phrasing. And so that's what I do. I work with people and use their natural instincts and gifts and knowledge and just elevated in a way by chipping away some of the wrong stuff to reveal the right stuff. And I mean, what I do is just about unveiling, revealing what's already there. No doubt about it.
Steve Brown: 24:45
That's cool. So in our journey here on this conversation, we got your back story. We learned about your call to action with this doctor the day you saw that. Yeah. All right. The next thing in the hero's journey is what's called this road of trials. Where you make efforts, you have setbacks. You... you try, you generate and you go through this learning phase.
Brian Burkhart: 25:11
Steve Brown: 25:12
You probably didn't go through that. You probably just since fifth grade, you've just been a natural. I'm being facetious, of course, but...
Brian Burkhart: 25:20
Oh, of course, I just rock everything. Every time is was perfect.
Steve Brown: 25:23
There we are. So let's go ahead and wrap this conversation up that... So talk to us more about roads and trials. That's what everyone experiences. What were some of yours?
Brian Burkhart: 25:35
Uh, I have too many to list in this short time frame. That... And that's really all right. Yeah, whether it's with my associates, people I've hired, or clients that I've lost along the way, I have made a tremendous number of mistakes. So many great learning elements from those mistakes, though. So in many ways, and really excited to share this kind of stuff. The one that really strikes me and there are a few. But there are there's one that I will never ever forget. It was bad. We were doing... It's gonna sound a little clunky, but we have been asked to videotape a guy who was going to give a pretty typical business presentation. He was gonna click through a bunch of sides, tell his little story, and off we go. And we were asked to videotape this thing because, for whatever reason, he couldn't be there. I don't remember the circumstance, but we were capturing this thing for posterity. Well, he gets done, and it was just absolutely invisible. I mean, it was tragically bad, from the worst slides you've ever seen to absolutely no cogent thought of... And is just so bad.
Brian Burkhart: 26:43
And so I immediately jump in, and I'm very quick to be like, "Here's my card. You should call me because you were terrible." I was just awful to that guy, and he actually then went to my client, the people that hired us to videotape this thing and said, "I don't know who this guy is, but he needs to be bounced." And of course they came a calling, and I had to do a certain song and danced and retreat a little bit. But it was one of those things that they allowed me to come back because they were right. And it was one of those things that when I heard it, I was like, "Whoa, not only am I sorry, man, have my eyes just been opened. I was wrong." And I think they knew, my client knew that I had a good heart. My intent was to be helpful to this guy wasn't trying to do anything awful. But boy, did I handle it poorly. And so that was what I was kind of lessons that I started to really see things in a different lens. And it may sound stupid, but that's very, very real.
Steve Brown: 27:45
We're gonna take a moment here so I can tell you about a book I believe you need to read. Most every day, for the last 10 years, I've worked with business leaders such as you, and there's this common conversation that I've had over and over. And it goes a little like this, "Steve. I see other brands excelling online, and I feel we need to do the same because my customers are expecting it of us. I'm not sure where to start, but I think we need to redo our website. What's the best way to approach this?" And this is why I wrote my book, "The Golden Toilet: Stop Flushing Your Marketing Budget into Your Website and Build a System that Grows Your Business". It's a book designed to empower my business leaders so that they have the words and the proper expectations to communicate what it is they really need and get what they really need instead of something that's sold to them. It puts them in a position of confidence and clarity. And so to get this book, it's a great read, you can go to Amazon, get it there, or you can go to thegoldentoilet.com and click on "Get Your Copy." Now back to our conversation.
Brian Burkhart: 29:08
I think another one, one that I take very, very seriously... We talked to our clients about making big mistakes, not little ones, all the time. And one that seems so ridiculous... I'll give you an example: today's Friday that we're doing this discussion. I have a project that's due on Tuesday of next week. We will hit that deadline. I'm sure that my... Very confident in my team and I will hit that deadline. But if there was any doubt about us hitting that deadline, we would already know. And what a lot of people would do is they would wait until Tuesday and fire off an email that says, "We tried, but we couldn't get it done."
Brian Burkhart: 29:48
That's wrong. What you should do is that the very first moment, today, Friday, pick up the phone and have a human conversation that says something like, "Steve, we're looking at this. We're knee-deep in it. We've been at it for a few days. We're looking forward. We're not gonna hit it, and I just wanted you to know that we're not giving up. It's probably gonna be more like end of day Wednesday, but we're still gonna push forward. We're gonna get it to you. But it's not gonna be on Tuesday." If I did that to you, days in advance, human to human, you're gonna go, "Okay, no problem. We'll figure it out." But if I waited to the last second when the deadline actually hits shoot you a simple text or email and say, "Sorry Steve, couldn't get it done," you are not a happy camper. And so that's a little bit of one of those things that make a big mistake, not a little one. And you make a big mistake, people are more forgiving. If I spell your name wrong, you're gonna go, "How do you get Steve wrong? It's with a V not a PH, like, it's basic," and so there's been so many little things that we've learned along the way. But I could talk for days on those things.
Steve Brown: 30:49
That's excellent. I appreciate that. So in the hero's journey, they talk about the reward there from this road of trials. There's this epiphany, or this gold of insight called the reward that you start to bring back to your community as you've gone through the pit or the underworld or the other world. What's your secret? So that you're not the only one that does this.
Brian Burkhart: 31:16
Steve Brown: 31:16
So what is that reward that's unique to you that's coming from in you that's so valuable or that your people really appreciate?
Brian Burkhart: 31:26
I would tell you, I think I have this figured out. I... Sincerely, I am not a very good person. When it comes to religion, I don't do religion well. I was raised Catholic and I gave up on Christmas Day about two decades ago. Mom, my 100% Italian Catholic mother on Christmas Day, "Mom, I'm out. Not interested in Catholicism anymore," and my wife is pretty great. She's very understanding about my lack of a deep religious-based thing, and so I have some warts when it comes to this discussion. But that's a long way of getting to my point, which is my favorite song, the song that I really go, "Man. If I had to choose one, it's The Little Drummer Boy."
Brian Burkhart: 32:06
For people that know that song. This will make sense if you don't know it. It's pretty straightforward, but essentially the King of Kings has been born. Everyone and everything around wants to provide some sort of gift to acknowledge the birth of the King of Kings, right? It's this little drummer boy. He's poor, he's got nothing, really has absolutely zip to offer. And after some internal study, he comes to one conclusion, and that is, "The only thing I can do is the only thing I have, and that's played my drum." And so he does. And the reward, as it's told in the song that the King of Kings smiled approvingly, right? And what I have come to realize is that the work that I do, the things that I do to help people, that is my gift. It's the drum that I can play. And when I see my clients step up and I know the before and then I see the after... And really it's not about performance. It's about how they feel, about how they transform internally, how they become true leaders. That is about as rewarding as anything on the planet. And so I have just become real clear that the thing that I can do is just be me. Just play my drum, give my gift. And if it works for some people, great. If there are others who don't want it, fine. But those that say "Bring it on," it feels pretty good, and I will continue to do this.
Steve Brown: 33:30
So talk to me about who are the type of clients that really eat this up, really are ready? Who's your perfect client?
Brian Burkhart: 33:41
It's a great question, and there are a number of people who will really become the best, and the higher people are in an organization, more often, the better it is for me. And the answer is because no one says the truth. I'll give you an example. If you were giving an industry presentation right now, not just your firm, but you're at some large kind of like a B2B marketing showcase with 1000 people in the audience the minute you get offstage, Steve. Regardless, if you did a good job or a bad job, people are gonna say to you, "That's great. You did great. Good job." And they could be lying to your face, straight up, telling you a bunch of bupkis.
Brian Burkhart: 34:21
As people grow in within an organization, the amount of truth they get gets smaller in and amount of people that can lean on for not just truth, but for wisdom and help get smaller. And so I get people like CEO types of big companies. I mean, we're talking the Amazons, Googles, United Airlines, City Banks, or the trust of the world. The big boys and I give them the truth, and more than that, given the work that they could use and do to be better. I give them stuff to improve, and it's fast and it's tangible and it's real. And so for me, it's C Suite executives. And really, it's from small companies, people who have never taken the time to ever consider this stuff. So the biggest that have all the resources in the world that don't dedicate and even to this and everyone in between. And so for me, it's really about leaders who want to improve, who are curious about being better, about really connecting with audiences at an authentic way. Those are my people. I'm not ever going to say that we help people do public speaking, although that kind of stuff is part of it. This is about business communications, and so really, it's focused on the message and the mechanics around delivering a message within the framework and context of business in a really powerful way.
Steve Brown: 35:36
So let's say that I'm listening to this and, well, you and I share a common experience. We self-published a book, right? And so I'm relating a little bit with you know, I wrote a book, and obviously you want someone to read it. But you're looking for this feedback on it. So my you know my mom read it and she's gonna... She's gonna be proud and my dad read and he's proud and there's a couple of words in there that he would have not put in there. But it's not this risque book. I'm just having fun with that. But...
Brian Burkhart: 36:09
I had a couple of bombs in my book, and my parents took some umbrage with such things.
Steve Brown: 36:14
Right? And so... But what I was really looking for is is some of the folks that the book is written for that don't know me that well that would really give me honest feedback. And I found that so valuable and fulfilling and got some good feedback on it. And so what is the process look like when someone comes to you? I need to publish a book. I need to go get ready because someone's gonna ask me to do a presentation, and I don't want to embarrass them and ruin that trust, that risk that they took to have me blow it in front of their crown. Right?
Brian Burkhart: 36:52
Steve Brown: 36:52
What does that look like when you work with someone?
Brian Burkhart: 36:56
It's a really great question, and you could guess that it's different with every individual or organization we work with because everyone's at a different level. The very first thing I do, despite surprise people, when I work with people I'll stick with kind of the notion of one-on-one consulting here. The first thing I do is I give people a gratitude journal. It's like a Moleskine, like, you know, a little notebook, kind of a thing,
Steve Brown: 37:18
A gratitude journal?
Brian Burkhart: 37:20
Gratitude. And I want people to begin the process, this whole journey, by starting to really channel gratitude. And I'll give you an example. Like for me. I do this every single morning I write in my old journal. I think about it. It's sometimes small, like, "I am grateful for my Sonicare toothbrush. It works great," and other times it's more like, "I am grateful for the fact that our nation is not currently at war in my home state-slash-city of Phoenix, Arizona here," right? And so sometimes the gratitude could be anywhere along that journey.
Brian Burkhart: 37:54
The reason I do that is I want the right mental energy. It's sort of a metaphysical kind of thing, but the moment you get a chance. and this is a great example, this is an amazing opportunity for me. For me to sit across from you and do this podcast and speak to a large community of your people, that is not a task on my to-do list. It's an incredible, amazing opportunity. And so if I come to that with a sense of gratitude, it's gonna show up in the very best possible ways. However, if I come at it as a task of, "I gotta find time on my calendar to sit where Steve, It's gonna take an hour, I've got to do this and he's gonna ask me a bunch of questions and more," than that shows up that way to
Steve Brown: 38:36
Brian Burkhart: 38:37
Steve Brown: 38:39
It's 90 minutes?
Brian Burkhart: 38:39
90 minutes? We'll do two.
Steve Brown: 38:40
Brian Burkhart: 38:41
But that gratitude thing is first, and it's huge. It can change everything. That's the first thing we do.
Steve Brown: 38:47
I'm sitting here all along this whole time. I can't help. I'm smiling and enjoying you talking, and it's a result of what you're talking about. I'm listening to this book. It's "Atomic Habits." It talks about one of the things that's really important is for your identity, to get aligned with what you want to accomplish. And that gratitude process is impacting your identity, which starts to pull you in that direction. That's huge, and I and that's brilliant.
Brian Burkhart: 39:20
It really is one of those things that seems so simple and in many ways, "Woo woo." You know, like, "What's he talking about?" And you get some of these guys like, "You want me to do what?" I want you to notice the things that you're grateful for. That energy, the spirit that you can bring to a situation, it sort of builds up, and you kind of have a very different sense of what you're about to do when you've taken time to really, simply just codify all these amazing things and reasons we have to be grateful. If you simply forget those things and just don't even notice all of the amazingness that surrounds us, you kind of have a bad attitude going in and the audience will pick up on that. And so I'm trying to do is shine a light on the energy that people provide, and I know it's a little crazy, but it's the first thing we do.
Steve Brown: 40:10
So I'm wondering. To women, is there a certain style that you would coach them for their energy? I'm just curious, do women or men adopt this? How did they navigate it differently?
Brian Burkhart: 40:25
It's really interesting, sir. I'll tell you a quick story.
Steve Brown: 40:28
Brian Burkhart: 40:29
Really, really impressive lady, she's... Her first name is Marissa. She's the CEO of a very cool, disruptive technology company. And she's crazy, smart, super capable, definitely by all measure attractive, and so she can be an intimidating force. And, you know, she's got all the right degrees and all the right work history. She's the real deal. She was hosting a panel discussion, and she was kind of doing as I had coached her, which was in panel discussions, the moderator has to be in charge. The minute they let the panel go wild and rogue it all kind of goes to hell. And so she was raining people in and kind of keeping the things going. And when it was over, one of the pieces of feedback from one of the Panelists was along the lines of, "You're kind of bitchy." She was then working with me on some other stuff, and she was like, "Well, there's a perception of me that I'm kind of bitchy," and I stopped her dead in her tracks.
Brian Burkhart: 41:28
I said, "I refuse. Absolutely not. We're not gonna take this tact. We're not going down this path. That is a false narrative. What you are is capable. Extremely. If a man was sitting in that seat as the moderator and doing exactly what you did, the guy would not have said, 'Well, aren't you bitchy?' He would have said, 'That's a guy in charge. That person took control.' And it would have been affirmed. It would've been a positive." I said, "Do not let one man in that ridiculous, antiquated opinion and style dictate the way you think of your own abilities." And she was floored that I was so strong and said, "We will not accept his nonsense. We will not let that seep into your consciousness."
Brian Burkhart: 42:13
And so sometimes with women, in particular, you have to remind them of the truth. The truth of the matter. The situation was that man was an idiot. He was wrong. That's not always easy to do. She did nothing wrong. He did, and so it's unfair. It's not cool. It's not what should be happening. And as we look further into the future, let's hope it never happens, but it is the unfortunate truth now. So I've gotta work sometimes with women to battle those kind of things. And, you know, it comes up in all kinds of things.
Brian Burkhart: 42:43
I'll tell you one story as well. I was working with a guy, an entrepreneur. Really smart guy. Super, super, super talented. I mean, just one of these kind of guys that's like, you want to follow this guy into fire. Just an amazing guy. He also happened to be a man of color, and he was going around trying to raise capital for a startup. He was looking for a few million dollars he wasn't having a ton attraction. And yet this is the kind of guy that everybody should follow. And I was working with him. His name was Steve. I said, "Steve, um, this is gonna sound awful. But one of the first things I want you to do is I want you to, for just the pitch if you have to (and I know it might feel disingenuous. And I'm a guy who preaches authenticity. I get it) but I want you to sound more white." And I mean, this sounds horrible, right? It's just awful on every level. He did. He got money immediately, and it's one of that kinds of things where we had to play to our audience.
Brian Burkhart: 43:41
But having those kind of conversations and the reality of having to have those conversations, it sickens me. It turns my stomach to think that I have to have that guy do that. It's awful, But that's the unfortunate truth of the world we currently live. And I do think it's getting better, hopefully, hopefully, it will continue to. But sometimes we have to give that kind of advice because it's still, as much as I hate it... Look at us. A couple of middle-aged white guys. We look like the majority of businessmen. That's what we look like. It's true. And so until that changes, and I hope it does soon, those kind of things with both female minorities, that kind of coaching, it will still be part of the equation.
Steve Brown: 44:16
Yeah, that's so true.
Steve Brown: 44:19
I've lost the question, but I hope that answered it.
Steve Brown: 44:19
No, that's the difference between men and women, and you're helping them create their message to connect with their audience. You empowered him or even her and help them navigate the environment, whether positive... It is what it was. That's cool. I mean, that's what they need. That's what our heroes need, are people that will help run the traps for them so that they can focus on what they do best.
Brian Burkhart: 44:49
Yeah, and it really is unfortunate that the world works that way. We're human. We make lots of mistakes. We're sometimes bad people, not necessarily with bad hearts. It's just the way it works.
Steve Brown: 44:59
That's so true. So we know our perfect client. And what is that you wished more business owners would do? You know, I think about my audience and what I wish that they would... the light would go off with him. What is that message that you have to yours?
Brian Burkhart: 45:17
Oh, this is an easy one. And you're not gonna be surprise, of course, because you know me enough. I want every business owner and certainly the individuals within that business to know with absolute certainty, complete and total clarity, what it is their organization stands for. What its core belief is. Why it exists. My firm, SquarePlanet, we exist to make waves to make waves. I'm out here in the desert of Phoenix, Arizona. There's no water. The waves that we make, they're not of the aquatic variety.
Steve Brown: 45:48
Brian Burkhart: 45:49
The waves that we make... It's about taking our clients' most important messages, the stuff that matters to them, and elevating it so people remember and act. We're gonna take your message and elevated so people remember and act. That's how we make waves. We're gonna be different than everybody else. And the vast majority of organizations and individuals have no clue what they stand for.
Steve Brown: 46:12
It's hard. It sounds easy. It's obvious. Or, of course, duh. But when you go, "What do you stand for?
Brian Burkhart: 46:18
They can't answer.
Steve Brown: 46:20
No, and going through that book process and then reading your book and I'm going... I had to go and kind of sit and think about... And then it became more clear to me, but I didn't do a deliberate consideration of that. It was there, but I had to pick it up and dust it off. So how do you help them identify that?
Brian Burkhart: 46:42
That's essentially what my main work is, and some of it is just by brute force and experience. I've been at it a long time, and so I can kind of pick through the things they're saying and find it. Sometimes it's a bit more assumptive like, "Um, I close to right here?" Sometimes it's a bit more aspirational. Let me describe this to you, and you're gonna work towards it. It's any number of things on the spectrum, but more often than not, what we'll do is we'll do things like a founder's story, especially if it's a relatively small to mid-size firm. We can say things like, "Steve, tell me why you started ROI Online? What was the genesis of that? Give me the scoop of what happened." And there's usually some nuggets of gold right there in the founder's story.
Steve Brown: 47:24
By the way, that's called the origin story.
Brian Burkhart: 47:27
The origin story, for sure.
Steve Brown: 47:28
In and story that's the origin.
Brian Burkhart: 47:30
Steve Brown: 47:32
Sorry I interrupted you.
Brian Burkhart: 47:32
That's a great little spot for us to play. And so origin stories are one of my faves for sure. For sure. Another thing that we do, and I ask people to do this all the time, is to reverse engineer. And the way I can describe that, if you remember... You'll remember this. The Terminator movie, with Skynet, there's a scene where they talk about..They found the arm of the Terminator and they reversed engineered it. It was something they had never seen before. What we do is we reverse engineer based on something called cognitive psychology theory. Cognitive psychology theory tells us that our beliefs lead to our actions. Our beliefs lead to actions. If you believe sushi is nasty, horrible, gross, slimy, dead fish, your action is to order a burger or pizza or something. You're not gonna order sushi. And so what we'll do for both firms and individuals is will start codifying their actions, which will allow us to deduce what you believe and reverse engineer it. And so there's a variety of ways that we do this stuff. But as much as anything, we talk. We just have conversations, and we figure it out.
Steve Brown: 48:40
It must be hard for you to talk to people, Brian, that...
Brian Burkhart: 48:43
I'm a delicate, quiet little flower, Steve. I hide in a corner.
Brian Burkhart: 48:46
People would... You probably have a hard time getting off the phone or podcast for example, as a guess. So two more questions. Yes, this has been fun. And I'm really got a lot from this.
Brian Burkhart: 48:59
It has been fun. I appreciate you having me on.
Steve Brown: 49:01
So, um, you have a podcast.
Brian Burkhart: 49:04
Steve Brown: 49:05
And you got a jingle in the beginning and I wish we could play it right now. I love it. It's a great podcast, and I'm bringing it up because I want everyone to know about it. It's, ah, SquareStories podcast. But they have this great music that if you listen to it on 2-3 episodes, you'll find yourself kind of whistling it or humming it later on in the day
Brian Burkhart: 49:27
I do like our little song. It's kind of a nice little jingle. Yeah.
Steve Brown: 49:30
Yeah, but that I always expect her when she says she's teeing up and about to do... And she says, "Where we're making waves and taking stories or something?" And I just want to hear making waves and kicking ass. I did.... I think that would just be so funny.
Brian Burkhart: 49:48
We could do that. Well a little interesting nugget, a little inside baseball in my world, is that my incredible partner in life, my wife, is the most amazing person I know. She's my most favorite person on the planet by a factor of a thousand. She also happens to be just drop dead, knock-out beautiful. She's actually more beautiful on the inside, but she's quite incredibly beautiful on the outside so she's a true incredible gift to the world. And I'm so lucky. But her skills have allowed her to do things like she's an on-air spokesperson. She was the Napa Autoparts girl for like, seven years. Does all this kind of on-camera stuff?
Brian Burkhart: 50:28
Brian Burkhart: 50:29
She also does voiceover work. So the voice of the SquareStories podcast was my bride. That's my honey.
Steve Brown: 50:36
I didn't know that.
Brian Burkhart: 50:37
There you go. Who knew?
Steve Brown: 50:38
Folks, Brian's got game.
Brian Burkhart: 50:41
I could absolutely have that voiceover recorded. It would just say... A little nudge on the sofa like, "Hey baby, can you record that for me?
Steve Brown: 50:48
I just... I keep expecting, you know, like, "You're taking... kicking ass and taking names or" however it goes, I just kept expecting that to come out, and I think that's funny, but...
Brian Burkhart: 50:58
I have might to do that just kind of placate you. I will do that for you, Steve.
Steve Brown: 51:01
So the last question I love to ask is, in this intriguing conversation that I've enjoyed so much, what's the one question that I didn't ask that you would have wished I did ask?
Brian Burkhart: 51:14
Oh, wow. Holy cow. That's a great question. Um, why did I move to Phoenix, Arizona?
Steve Brown: 51:22
Hey, Brian. And one more thing. Why would you move from the beautiful city of Chicago, where your heart lies in a sports team and all these things? You have all this foundation there. Why in the world would you move to Phoenix?
Brian Burkhart: 51:38
It's a great question, Steve, and I appreciate you asking.
Steve Brown: 51:41
Brian Burkhart: 51:41
The reason I think this is an important questions because so many people face this. I had found myself in what could be described as a fight. A fight with traffic, a fight with time, a fight with airports and congestion, a fight with humanity. I lived in a big city which was amazing on so many levels, is amazing on so many levels. But there's a certain toll, a grind. I mean, it is a cacophony of crazy at all hours in a place like downtown Chicago. Just the actual physical noise you hear of traffic and sirens and airplanes and people is huge. And we don't have children. My wife owns her business as well. She's a psychotherapist in an online, on-air model and spokesperson in voiceover talent. She's got a very flexible schedule. We bought a place in Phoenix to escape the frozen tundra for a while. It was just a winter house and I came out here and all of sudden it was like, "Oh my goodness." I heard birds. I see blue skies. It only took 15 minutes to get to the airport, not 50 minutes to get to the airport.
Brian Burkhart: 52:48
And all of a sudden there was an ability to sort of breathe and be in a way I hadn't experienced before. And the reason I think this is an important question is because there is no script. As much as people want to have this notion in their brain that they have to do certain things. "I have to go to school. I have to meet someone. I have to have a family, and..." No, there is no script. You are in complete control of your own life, your own domain, your own way of being. We came out here. We have no family here. We had one couple friends that we kind of knew. Now we know really, really well. We didn't have employees or an office. We weren't sure which neighborhood to be in. We didn't know anything about grocery stores, nightlife, restaurants, nothing. And it's been the best, most amazing adventure of my life. The script that we're living is the one that's authentic to us. We do things like go for hikes in the mountains on a regular basis. We watch the sunset on the mountain in our backyard. We do all of these things that make us feel great. And yet we still hear from our parents and our friends, "Are gonna move back. Are you coming home?" I am home and there is no script, and I think that people could hear that message all day, every day and still not let it sink in. And so that's why I think that's an important question.
Steve Brown: 54:10
I'd love that because we do. One of myepiphanies is that we have all these self-imposed barriers. We put them there. They're invisible. And what you're saying is, "You don't have to... You can do it different if you choose."
Brian Burkhart: 54:26
Steve Brown: 54:26
So does the sun set on Camelback Mountain? It does. you backyard?
Brian Burkhart: 54:31
It does. I have a beautiful, beautiful little spot of the world, and you are welcome to come join, come hang out with us. We have a really cool view of kind of the head of Camelback Mountain from our backyard. And at about 5:30 this time of year, as the sun starts to go down, it's this intense golden red awesome burning mountain thing. And then a few minutes later, like a light switch, click, it's off and then it's dark. It's something. It's pretty... it's pretty special.
Steve Brown: 55:02
That's cool. So, Brian, I've I've enjoyed. And what I love is that you are in the same fight I am for the same heroes and that we're working hard to help our folks communicate better to their audience and become the value that there's supposed to be, or that other people are needing.
Brian Burkhart: 55:24
Steve Brown: 55:25
I love that and I love your grateful lesson. And so for the folks that are listening and they've been bonded with you like I have, where can they find you?
Brian Burkhart: 55:37
The easiest thing is probably to check out squareplanet.com. Just think round Earth, but it's squareplanet.com. You could also just go to Amazon and check out my book, "Stand for Something: The Power of Building a Brand People Authentically Love" by Brian Burkhart. And like you, I'm on LinkedIn and Instagram and all that kind of stuff. But SquarePlanet is the easiest one.
Steve Brown: 55:58
That's the question I was going to ask, and I didn't. Why SquarePlanet?
Brian Burkhart: 56:04
It's a very cool story. It comes from astrophysicists, which is a tough word for me to say, you know,
Steve Brown: 56:11
That's easy for you to say.
Brian Burkhart: 56:12
I think it's tough for everybody to say. But astrophysicists, they use math, and so they're not looking at telescopes. They're looking at computer screens and doing math, and they're looking for anomalies. Ultimately, what happens is when they come across something that they can't understand, unlike the majority of us, they reach out to all their colleagues and say, "I got something. Got any thoughts about this?" They're very willing to say I can't figure it out as a community, which is super cool, because most of us don't.
Brian Burkhart: 56:42
What they ultimately found in this one series of anomalies was calculations that were so inexplicable that, ultimately, where they landed was gravitational poles of such magnitude that physical planets were being affected. They were being flattened or squared. In some cases, the gravitational poles were so strong that it was affecting orbits. They were being flattened or squared. Squared planets, squared orbits. It was all about black holes, these amazing gravitational forces at work and galaxies far, far away. And I loved it because what it really meant to me was that, for so many of our clients, their messages in their style is so far off that what I want him to do is rethink their orbit, rethink their planet's gravitational structure and physical being. I wanted them to square planet things. I wanted them to be different, to change their orbit. And so it was just a little play on a kind of a neat thing: an astrophysicist's world.
Steve Brown: 57:45
What a nice bow to put on the end of this conversation.
Brian Burkhart: 57:49
Said poorly, because that's a hard word. I challenge people to do astrophysicists better. It's hard..
Steve Brown: 57:55
Yes, I couldn't even say cacophony the other day, so you've already said it once in this podcast.
Brian Burkhart: 58:03
I don't think I could spell cacophony or astrophysicists.
Steve Brown: 58:08
You know how you can tell a real entrepreneur? They can't spell entrepreneur.
Brian Burkhart: 58:13
Yeah. You know, I can't! That's what awful, I mean it really is.
Steve Brown: 58:17
All right. Hey, thanks for being on, Brian.
Brian Burkhart: 58:20
And I appreciate it very much, if you'd be good. Thank you so much. Cheers.!
Steve Brown: 58:24
Goodnight. Thanks for listening to another fun episode of the ROI Online Podcast. For more, be sure to check out to show notes of this episode and feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn where we can chat and I can help direct you to the resource is you're searching for. To learn more about how you can grow your business better, be sure to pick up your copy of my book, "The Golden Toilet," at, surprise, the goldentoilet.com. I'm Steve Brown, and we'll see you next week on another fun episode of the ROI Online podcast.