Brian Burkhart is the founder and CEO of SquarePlanet Presentations & Strategy, a Phoenix, Arizona-based business communications firm that landed a spot on the 2018 Inc. 5000 list.
- CEO Hack: I use zoom app
- CEO Nugget: Being clear in what you stand for and believe in
- CEO Defined: Being accountable
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Gresham Harkless 0:29
Hello, hello, hello, this is Gresh from the I am CEO podcast and I have a very special guest on the show today. I have Brian Burkhart of Square Planet Presentations & Strategy. Brian it's awesome to have you on the show.
Brian Burkhart 0:40
Gresh. It's awesome to be here. Thanks for having me. I appreciate it very much.
Gresham Harkless 0:44
No problem. Super excited to have you on. And before we jumped in, I want to read a little bit more about Brian so you hear about all the awesome things that he's doing. And Brian is the founder and CEO of SquarePlanet Presentations & Strategy, a Phoenix, Arizona-based business communications firm that landed a spot on the 2018 Inc. 5000 list. Brian, are you ready to speak to the iamceo community?
Brian Burkhart 1:05
Let's do it. Gresh. I am in man.
Gresham Harkless 1:07
let's make it happen. So to kick everything off, I wanted to rewind the clock a little bit here a little bit more on how you got started. Can you take us through your CEO story, we'll let you get started with the business.
Brian Burkhart 1:16
I am getting old. That's part of the equation. And it all really always is right. We're always it's true. It really goes back honestly to my grade school time. I was in fifth grade. at Oak Ridge elementary school, just outside of Chicago, I ran for student council president and I was tiny little guy. I remember making a speech in front of my entire school, I walked up to the lectern, grab the gooseneck mic, pulled it down as far as it could go, squeaks going through the whole auditorium. And I made a presentation. And I knew right then in there Gresh, I knew that I was going to win the election. I did. But what was more important was the moment in time, it was the first time that really marked to me the power of effective communications, I was never a great athlete, I was never the smartest kid in class, I was never any of those things. But what I was, was by far the one most sort of inclined, and then capable to communicate publicly. And that really was the thing that launched my entire career trajectory there. Lots of search, serendipity and, and twists and turns and a circuitous route to Orlando today. But square planets been with us now roughly a decade, I've been really fortunate to work with some incredible people and do amazing things along the way. But really, it's about helping people understand that to truly lead, you have to communicate effectively. That means when you speak, people both remember and act on the things you say. And that's an art and a science. And it's taken really a lifetime to get us to this point. But that's it in a nutshell.
Gresham Harkless 2:53
Nice. I absolutely love that. It's so funny, because when I was around the same age, I started a family newspaper, and I'm really big into writing and creating content. And it's so funny how a lot of times we have those those things that we are passionate about, or things that come out in our childhood. And then we look, you know, years and years later, and we're still kind of doing those things in alignment and kind of see how we we kind of have our guests that we kind of just progress with if you step into that,
Brian Burkhart 3:18
I'll tell you a quick story. And I have to preface this by saying I am terrible and organized religion, I'm just it's just not in the cards for me. I'm just bad at it I I suffer through and I need to do things but it's not my jam, right? Oh, by far and away, my favorite song ever. All times of year is the Little Drummer Boy, that's a Christmas song. And so if anyone has not celebrated Christmas, this may not make sense. But it's the song about the notion that when the King of Kings is born, there's this poor little boy who wants to give a gift. And He kind of looks within and realizes that he's got nothing, he's got nothing to give, with one notable exception. He can play the drums, and the songs. The lyrics really are all about how this little guy against all tangible odds goes to the King of Kings plays the drum. And the king is very pleased. That notion of giving your gifts and recognizing early the things that you can really do and leaning into it. I think that's actually the key to success for people. People are quick to deny their own intrinsic disposition towards the things that they love. It doesn't feel like work when you're collectively giving your gift on a regular basis. So for me, I love that you did that as a kid. And here you are today building content on the regular basis. I'm still communicating on a regular basis. It doesn't feel hard when you're doing the thing you're naturally intended to do.
Gresham Harkless 4:43
Yeah, absolutely love that. I appreciate you for breaking down that because I think so many times we ignore or we forget that but as you said when we lean into those things that we like to do, and often we're good at because that's why we like to do it. That's when phenomenal things happen. So I know one of those phenomenal things That you've been able to do his square planning, could you take us through exactly what you're doing and how you serve the clients that you work with there?
Brian Burkhart 5:06
Absolutely. It's an interesting little business, we have very few competitors, there are a couple. But it's an interesting business because it hits at something so deeply personal and often traumatic. At its core, what Square Planet is all about? It's this notion of making waves, we make waves. And I'm out here in the desert of Phoenix, there's no water, these are not of the aquatic variety, the waves that we make, it's about helping our clients elevate their most important messages. So people remember an act elevate messages. So people remember an act. And that take the form of variety things. There are two main ways that we produce income, produce events, meetings, that kind of stuff. So back to pre COVID, they were often live now they're virtual. But it's really about helping our organizations take those moments in time, whether it's an internal sales conference, a supplier conference, a client conference, and elevating them, and so that they're truly things that people remember and act on. Part of that is also helping the individual with things like a keynote, a presentation that deeply matters. And so that lives in a variety of ways. It could be, like I just said, in a conference sort of environment where someone stands on stage in front of a few hundred or a few thousand people, it can also be things like a sales presentation could be one to one could be a team based sale, but those presentations that deeply matter, not the little ones that we do 1000 times a day, but those big ones, the ones that you can feel the butterflies, that's where we step in, in a really big way. Those are two of the six ways that we typically make money. I also get paid to go speak, we do some additional training and consulting on things like presentations. But essentially, it's helping people really take their message, elevate it, so that audiences remember an act.
Gresham Harkless 6:56
Nice, I absolutely love that. And I think that being, you know, memorable, and being able to create or create that environment that to make those waves and create those waves you got to do. Exactly, it's huge. And I think that's what we all hope to do. Because I feel like you know, getting more into like the psychology of why we do what we do, I feel like it's so that we are remembered so that we do create some type of action or make some imprint on our world or our society, and so on and so forth, then I think so many times, not being able to communicate effectively for that to happen can sometimes hold us back if we really have phenomenal things that we want to do. So I love how you're able to kind of facilitate that and help empower people in so many different ways with being able to do that.
Brian Burkhart 7:37
Well, here's what I would tell Gresh it's very real. I mean, it's very sincerely is that leadership, and communications are deeply rooted, they're deeply connected. It's things like you think of any organization, big or small, doesn't matter. The leaders of that organization have no choice, they must communicate, whether it's internally or externally, leaders are constantly put in a position to communicate. And within those same organizations, those that have a proclivity towards really solid communications, often become the leaders, you see this relationship all the time, regardless of the kind of organization that those that can truly stand out, when it comes to communication will often rise to the top very, very quickly. That is rooted in leadership. And so when people can put these skills together, and understand the power of that, they can really make a dent in their own little reversal world, their life, I have seen many a person I've worked with rise up a corporate ladder, get raises and titles and ultimately changed the direction of their life and their family unit. It's real. So while it's a soft skill, it's one of those skills that permeates everything we do. And when people look at it with the right proper lens, and put the onus on the way they should ultimately changed their life in a really powerful, profound and powerful way.
Gresham Harkless 8:58
Yeah, absolutely. And it definitely has, you know, as you said, it, it might be considered a soft skill, but I definitely feel like it's kind of a glue skill, so to speak to, because it in so many different aspects of you know, from a day to day basis, obviously, jobs or presentations and so many different aspects. So I wanted to ask you now for what I call your secret sauce, and this could be for you personally, or your business or combination of both. But what do you feel kind of sets you apart and makes you unique?
Brian Burkhart 9:23
Great question. There's a couple things I think I think for one for me, personally, which really, my business is definitely a deep reflection of me as the founder CEO. There's not much of a difference between getting me and getting my company. We are so aligned.
Gresham Harkless 9:41
Brian Burkhart 9:42
I mean, that's just kind of the way that is. There's two things that I think one is you probably are familiar with. There's a variety of different tests out there sort of like personality assessments. One, actually a great company good friends of mine, it's Colby, which is with a K in the Colby index is that This really kind of well known personality assessment. And if anyone knows that I say these numbers are gonna know what this means. But I'm a 4493. And that nine is an indication of something called Fast Start. Well, Kathy Colby, the owner of the company and a pal of mine, she said to me, after reading my results, she's like, Brian, you're like a 9.9, or almost a 10 doesn't really go that high. What that really means is that I am super fast on the uptake, unlike most people, if you and I had a conversation Gresh, and you're trying to tell me about your business, or something, I'm going to understand really quickly. And that is a huge part of the secret sauce, because there's not a whole lot of people in my world, that roll out of bed on any given day and say, you know what I want, I want to be beat up a little bit by some guy, I hardly know about my presentation and communication skills. And so my ability to figure it out fast, goes a really long way. I can give people really actionable feedback, really solid information to make them better in moments. And it's just one of those things that I just got luck, I got lucky. That was just one of those things that kind of fell in my way.
Gresham Harkless 11:11
I wanted to switch gears a little bit if I ask you for what I call a CEO hack. So this could be like an app or a book or a habit that you have. But what's something that makes you more effective and efficient?
Brian Burkhart 11:22
I'll give you a couple. So right now, as we speak, we are using zoom and all those platforms, whether it's WebEx teams pick one, they create an immediate disconnect between you and I as people, right? It's not a normal situation. If you and I were across a table from each other, or sitting in a room, coffee house, boardroom, whatever it was, we would look each other in the eye, no doubt about it. But the minute we get into zoom, everything changes. So the hack that I am using is you'll notice right now Gresh I'm looking you in the eye, but what I'm really doing is looking into the lens, watch my eyes, I'm going to shift and I'm going to now look at you. Do you see the difference? It's subtle, but it's real. I'm now looking at you but I'm really not looking at you. This is looking you in the eye. So the hack is I swear I wish I can show you this, I have two little yellow post it with arrows, one on the left that says look, one on the right that says here, the thing is eyeline, it's a silly little thing, it costs nothing unless you need to go get some posts, it just simply makes me connect with you. And whoever else is on the other end of that lens, that's a heck of a hack. The other one that I'll tell you, this is something that I feel like I've talked about this to anyone and everyone that will listen. And that is the idea that you don't need to have a physical mentor. I think that is a really good thing for anyone at any time of life. at any age, there is so much collective wisdom available in the world, whether it's the internet books, you name it, you do not need a human being at your side at the ready to be your mentor.
Gresham Harkless 13:01
Now I want to ask you for what I call a CEO nugget. And this could be a word of wisdom or a piece of advice as you kind of spoke to, it could be something you would tell a client or if you have to do a time machine, you might tell your younger business self.
Brian Burkhart 13:12
I you're gonna be surprised by this Gresh. So this is what my book is about. This is what I talk about all the time. For me the thing that I am most passionate about. And it really has started to resonate in a variety of ways in social and the fabric of life, as we all know it. It's really being very clear, purposeful and more than anything in deep, true knowledge of oneself, of what you stand for what you believe in, there is enough work and enough people that you don't need to try to placate everyone. In fact, it's just a terrible idea. What's best is to know exactly what you stand for what you believe in, and then work with those around you that believe this is
Gresham Harkless 13:54
One of the things I wanted to ask before that is actually what does being a CEO means you were hoping to have different quote unquote, CEOs on the show. But what does being a CEO mean to you, Brian?
Brian Burkhart 14:04
I think the number one thing for me about being a CEO Gresh is being truly accountable. When things go bad, I've got to stand there and say it's my fault. The buck does stop here. And it's interesting, because there's lots of little ways that those things can create a really great organization give you a silly example. But we talk about that kind of accountability on things like deadlines. If we have a deadline, that our client is expecting something and we know we're not going to hit it, as opposed to waiting, we get to that deadline to tell them we're going to find the earliest possible opportunity to say hey, you know what, we're gonna miss this. That accountability, that willingness to say I have screwed up. I think that defines what the really good CEOs do. It permeates an entire organization. people realize that they're allowed to be human and make mistakes, but at the same time, figure out ways to fix those mistakes. That grace baked in from the top that accountability through all parts of the organization. If that's not there, that void I think, can be utterly destructive. And there are so many CEOs who love those layers of insulation and love to push that blame onto someone else. Not for me, and I think those I've seen and work with, and those that I've spent time with, that do such an amazing job of saying, It's right here. Those are the best organizations, those are the best CEOs. It's about. Ultimately, it's about accountability.
Gresham Harkless 15:34
Yeah, accountability. And as you said, being able to vocalize and say, Hey, I made a mistake, but this is how we're going to correct it is a huge thing. And I think so many times, you rarely get people that raise their hand and say, I did X, Y, and Z wrong and kind of take that true leadership mantle, as you said. So definitely appreciate that definition in that perspective. And I appreciate your time, even more. And now I want to hear a little bit more on how we can get a copy of the book and find out about all the awesome things that you're working on.
Brian Burkhart 15:59
You can certainly go to Amazon, if you just put in Brian Burkhart stand for something. You know, it's been pretty cool. That's been kind of a neat experience was August 1. So I'm literally down to the day. I shouldn't date when we recorded this I'm sorry. My book was released in August 1 of 2019. And so it has been a year of it's been very, very cool. But the best easiest thing to do is also just go to squareplanet.com. Think round Earth Square Planet is got a bunch. Our site has links to a variety of things, a bunch of free resources, some free tutorials, some free downloadable ebooks, and then of course a link to my book as well. But I'd love to meet any members of your audience and have a more in depth conversation. Let's do that.
Gresham Harkless 16:46
Absolutely. No, I appreciate you, Brian for obviously, taking time out today providing loads of value and of course, being able to kind of create that opportunity for expertise that Jim that we can kind of learn from and be and be mentored by you and learn about all the awesome things that you're doing. So we will definitely have the links and information in the show notes so that everybody can follow up with you. But truly appreciate you my friend and I hope you have a phenomenal rest of the day. Thank you
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