5 Things Neil Diamond Teaches Us About Communications

This post was updated on April 20, 2013 to incorporate Diamond’s performance at Fenway Park following the Boston Marathon Bombings.

I was born in Brooklyn, New York in the 1970s.

Neil Diamond was the Jewish Elvis, the kid from the neighborhood who made it big – so I was indoctrinated early. The first cassette tape my parents ever owned was Neil Diamond’s You Don’t Bring Me Flowers. My mother used to pick me up from grade school – in our brown Oldsmobile station wagon – while blasting “Forever In Blue Jeans.”

So, you see, my affinity for the man isn’t my fault. I was genetically (and geographically) pre-programmed to like him.

Today, I am sharing my guilty pleasure with you. Here are five things Neil Diamond teaches you about communications. 

1. Don’t Be Afraid to Stand Out

If you’ve ever seen Neil Diamond in concert, you know he loves his sequined shirts. He started wearing them early in his career so everyone in the audience could see him – and it became a key part of his shtick. No, you probably shouldn’t wear a sparkly vest during your next speech. But it’s a good reminder that occasionally dispensing with convention can work to your advantage.

2. Know Who You Are

Neil Diamond is about as schmaltzy as they come. But somehow, he has become an icon of “cool.” Over the past few years, he’s appeared in teen movies and inspired cover bands; in 2011, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. And he received some of the best press of his career after showing up without warning at Fenway Park for the first RedSox game after the Boston Marathon bombers were caught in April 2013.

His “coolness” doesn’t come from being trendy and hip, but from knowing exactly who he is and embracing it. Great communicators convey a sense of being comfortable in their own skin, regardless of whether or not the rest of the world has caught up to them.

3. Involve Your Audience

Diamond’s signature song “Sweet Caroline” is the perfect example of audience involvement. Through the years, his audiences have supplemented his chorus by singing “bum, bum, bum” and “so good, so good, so good!” He knows that great communicators treat their audiences not as passive potted plants, but as active participants. Check out this performance from Fenway Park:

4. Tell Detailed Stories

Great communicators know they have to be concrete, not abstract. That often means telling stories that resonate deeply and evoke a specific response. Sure, Neil Diamond’s music can be cheesy – but he’s also one hell of a storyteller. For example, his song “Brooklyn Roads” contains this verse that everyone who ever under-achieved can relate to:

“Mama’d come to school
And as I’d sit there softly crying
Teacher’d say, ‘He’s just not trying
He’s got a good head if he’d apply it’
But you know yourself
It’s always somewhere else”


5. Be Real

In recent years, Neil Diamond has been working with super-producer Rick Rubin, who’s produced for everyone from the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Metallica to Run-D.M.C. and Johnny Cash.

Rubin instructed Diamond to lose the sappy tunes and be more “real.” He forced him to play guitar on his own record for the first time in decades. One result of their collaboration is “Hell Yeah,” a beautiful song that tackles Diamond’s advancing age head on.

Who’s your musical guilty pleasure? Leave yours in the comment section below – and leave a link to one of their YouTube videos if you’d like.

Related: 12 Things Cheesy 1980s Music Can Teach Public Speakers

Related: Five Ways Media Training Can Fix Your Marriage