E1. Bernard Salt


Australia’s Best Demographer

Bernard Salt is Australia’s most in demand Demographics Speaker. Usually when he does interviews, he is always asked to explain the latest demographic trends but in this interview I got to ask him about his business, the craft of Professional Speaking and what makes him a great Storyteller. It truly is a master class on so many levels.



  • How did you start up KMPG’s Demographics Group? – (1:38)
  • The winning secret to presenting to high level corporate executives. – (3:14)
  • How do you generate trust in audiences’ minds? – (3:30)
  • How do you win the hearts and minds of CEOs – (5:00)
  • What was going through your mind during your first gig organised by a speaking agency – (6:42)
  • Described as a story teller for numbers, here’s how Bernard started talking about Demographics. – (8:13)
  • One Small Thing – (9:56)
  • What is the secret to a great story? 13:03
Bernard Salt

About the show

One Small Thing is the podcast for busy executives chasing big goals. The show covers business, leadership and peak performance ideas and stories from some of Australia’s brightest thinkers and doers.

Hosted by Business Creativity Speaker – AJ Kulatunga  – who is on a quest to find out what are the most important small things for leaders to keep in mind as they navigate a new era of business. We’re all driven by big goals but it’s the little things that all stack up over time that help turn dreams into reality.

Join AJ for some fascinating chats with some of the best and brightest in Australia.

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Episode transcript

00;00;02;00 – 00;00;24;06
We’ve always been driven by big, inspirational goals. Flying. Developing medicine. Walking on the moon. And while big goals are exciting, it’s actually the little details, the small things that, when done correctly and repeated over time, helps us achieve them. As business leaders face a new set of challenges, I am on a quest to find the small things I need to keep in mind.

00;00;24;15 – 00;00;36;12
My name is AJ Kulatunga and this is One Small Thing brought to you by Book Speakers Direct, the revolutionary way of selecting the best speaker for your event.

00;00;38;23 – 00;01;06;01
My guest today is Bernard Salt, executive director of the Demographics Group and one of Australia’s most thought provoking social commentators. Through his weekly columns, TV show books and radio programs, Bernard has a magical ability to answer the questions on our minds regarding social, cultural and generational change. For his contributions, Bernard was awarded the member of the Order of Australia in 2017.

00;01;06;10 – 00;01;10;24
Thank you so much for joining us, Bernard. Welcome to One Small Thing.

00;01;11;10 – 00;01;13;12
Bernard Salt
Thanks very much. Pleased to be here.

00;01;13;21 – 00;01;36;26
So we had a bit of a chat before about your your history and your career, and you came up as as a management consultant through KPMG and you did something amazing in my eyes. You basically you convinced KPMG to start a new business unit. Can you share a little bit about how you were able to do that?

00;01;38;04 – 00;02;03;08
Bernard Salt
Well, yes. In fact, I, I started effectively KPMG demographics, which was really my my little business unit, which we gave a name to eventually and where I where I focused on looking at demographic issues as they relate to business. So let’s just say, you know, a client wanted to look at the feasibility of a shopping center, for example.

00;02;03;08 – 00;02;23;26
Bernard Salt
So you need to look at the catchment area and the demographics behind that. And I found that that aptitude for demographics, demographic interpretation and speaking to clients about it, you know, there was quite a market for it. And, you know, put on other staff. And so then eventually we called that KPMG demographics and that, you know, it went on from there.

00;02;24;19 – 00;02;50;25
Bernard Salt
So this was in the late nineties, early 2000s. Of course, I retired from the KPMG Partnership about three or four years or so ago, and together with the number of people who were with me in that, in that group continued on now with the demographics group. And basically I’m doing what I’ve always enjoyed doing and liked doing, and that is looking at numbers and telling stories about it.

00;02;51;07 – 00;03;11;23
Bernard Salt
So, you know, I always say in business it’s not the numbers. The numbers themselves are actually quite boring. It is the stories behind the numbers. And when you’re ending to business, you know, the uppermost level of business, you know, whether it’s a board or the CEO, the C-suite, that sort of thing. Yes, they’re very good with numbers. But what they want to hear.

00;03;12;01 – 00;03;30;13
Bernard Salt
Is your interpretation a credible interpretation of where the numbers are heading and why they’re moving in that direction? And then, of course, they can they can make their strategy choices as a consequence. So in that respect, it’s I’m an interpreter of numbers. That’s a simplicity.

00;03;30;23 – 00;03;50;19
I think that is that’s really interesting. I know in our age today, specifically today, a lot of a lot of organizations, pretty much anyone anyone really trust is a big, big factor to that. So you mentioned that you’re you basically tell the story behind the numbers. How do you generate that trust in your audience’s mind?

00;03;52;07 – 00;04;15;16
Bernard Salt
Well, look, I think audiences are very, very much the same. I mean, I’ve been speaking professionally for more than 20 years. In fact, all over Australia, in fact, all over the world, mostly around Australia. But, you know, audiences, you know, from Rome to Paris to London to wherever, Costa Rica, I talk to, you know, right across the world.

00;04;15;16 – 00;04;35;12
Bernard Salt
And what I’ve discovered is that that audiences are the same, or at least the business audiences, the audiences that that come along to, to hear me at the end of the day. You need to you need to be open. You need to be honest. You need to be authentic. You need to know your stuff. You need to be fluent, fluid, self-confident.

00;04;35;24 – 00;05;03;06
Bernard Salt
You need to lean in. You need to. You need to be bold. You need to inject some humor into that. I mean, if a CEO board is going to give you 45 minutes of their time, they’re going to be there. Don’t be lectured for 45 minutes. You know, make your point really powerfully upfront, but then then relax, make some amusing observations, and they will go with you that that is what stunned me.

00;05;03;06 – 00;05;21;08
Bernard Salt
You know, I was when I started, I was quite a young man speaking in front of these these boards or whatever. And I thought, Oh, I can’t be irreverent like this. I need to be really formal then. And I realize, no, these people like they like you to take a risk, have a joke, and, and it shows command.

00;05;21;09 – 00;05;39;29
Bernard Salt
So self-confidence, if he is this self-confident that he can make a joke and carry out the moment, then the rest of his stuff must be good as well. So that was the kind of logic that I think won it over. Never intimidated by an audience. In fact, I always found that the bigger the audience, the easier it was.

00;05;39;29 – 00;05;58;24
Bernard Salt
The barrier to laugh is lower for a thousand people than it is for a boardroom full of, say, five or six people. Because now none of them will want a laughing front at the others. But if there’s a thousand people there, there’s going to be some people that find what you say amusing and then that that that infects the rest of the audience.

00;05;58;24 – 00;06;12;18
Bernard Salt
So, yes, there’s a lot of there’s a lot of stagecraft that goes with speaking and commanding a presentation in public, especially in the space that I’ve chosen, which is telling stories around numbers.

00;06;12;29 – 00;06;38;20
That is that is incredible insights. And and, you know, I’ve been speaking for ten years, but probably professionally, a a little bit shorter than that. But understanding the craft of of all of us, you know, the book Speak of Direct Family, I suppose it’s it’s fascinating to see. And, you know, it’s really interesting. But could you share what you were thinking at your first gig?

00;06;38;20 – 00;06;50;19
Because I know your first gig was pretty much the day of 911 in the States. Well, it was the day before 911. So how does that impact, you know, what what was going through your mind for your first gig?

00;06;51;15 – 00;07;15;16
Bernard Salt
Well, look, I was this was so September 11, 2001, and I had been speaking at the odd event here and there. You know, people would ring me up and say, can you speak at our event, you know, in Coffs Harbor or something? One of them never been to Coffs Harbor. I’ll go just to say so I was like but then a speaking agency contacted me and then said, you know, they’d like to represent me.

00;07;15;16 – 00;07;34;05
Bernard Salt
And I said That’s fine. Is the gig? It was actually the Property Council of Australia and the event was held at the Western Hotel in in Sydney and they might have paid like four or 500 people in the audience. And I was never really intimidated and very confident about what I had to say because I tested the material.

00;07;35;10 – 00;08;00;08
Bernard Salt
But from from that and what I found was the more you control, the more you put yourself out there, the more you are humorous, the more you have fun with your audience, the more casual, the more life your your connection is. The audience absolutely loves it. And if you put four or 500 people in an audience and deliver that presentation, there will be 20 people in that audience.

00;08;00;08 – 00;08;27;23
Bernard Salt
And so that was fantastic. I want him for my event later on, very early on I used to talk about, you know, the demographics of Australia or cities or whatever, and I talk about baby boomers and Generation X and whatever. I don’t even think millennials have been in that stage. And and I used to talk about it because people would ask me, you know, we’re all the single men.

00;08;28;03 – 00;08;47;08
Bernard Salt
And so I say, oh, here’s here’s a map of Sydney with his or the single men over here and all the single women there. And and, you know, there’s a, there’s a bridge between the Anzac breach and I’d say it’s the bridge of love. Have you absolutely erupted? This is my point about having fun. At the end of the day, this is census data.

00;08;47;08 – 00;09;02;02
Bernard Salt
These are very serious business people in the audience. You need to make very sensible assessments of what they need to know. But in between that, you can you can have fun, you can have fun with it. And that that builds connection.

00;09;02;14 – 00;09;03;02
That is that.

00;09;03;03 – 00;09;03;26
Bernard Salt
People love that.

00;09;04;06 – 00;09;26;19
That is incredible. Build fun, build connection. And of course, if you can make someone laugh, you know, they you earn their trust almost as if by magic bending. The goal of the One Small Thing podcast is that we are all driven by massive, world changing big ideas because as you know, as a professional yourself who’s built up your own practice, you know that the devil is in the detail.

00;09;26;19 – 00;09;46;28
But it’s really important to keep in mind the one small thing that will help you achieve the bigger goals. So the goal of this podcast is to basically bring together some of the brightest minds in Australia to share what they would like to keep instill in the minds of all the executives out there that are actually trying to transform their companies in a post-pandemic era.

00;09;46;28 – 00;09;55;08
So my question to you is, what is your one small thing that you would like everyone to keep in mind as they tackle the challenges ahead?

00;09;56;11 – 00;10;19;16
Bernard Salt
Well, look, I think certainly for Australian business and I would suspect that this applies elsewhere as well, you need to ensure that your business product, your business model fits the times, fits the market, if you like, and the times in the market in Australia. I think for the last ten years and for the 2020s is all about lifestyle.

00;10;20;04 – 00;10;42;17
Bernard Salt
There is one common denominator interpretation that I have discovered in every data set, every census data set, every ABC data set that I’ve looked at for the Australian people and I suspect the Americans to some extent as well, or maybe others, that is lifestyle people are driven by lifestyle and so that is quality of life, housing, job, whatever.

00;10;42;17 – 00;11;11;05
Bernard Salt
If you can actually if you can actually trace your business proposition, your value proposition back to how that is going to enhance the lifestyle of the of the average person in in your market, then the rest is just technically making sure that you get the production right, the distribution right, the pricing right. But at the end of the day, it must service this basic human need or desire for lifestyle.

00;11;11;12 – 00;11;40;10
Bernard Salt
Now, in previous years or generations, it might have been survival or, you know, just just making do or getting by or whatever. We passed that. It’s all about lifestyle. I mean, if you look at something like social media or, you know, smartphone owns this is that lifestyle. So if your product or service can enhance certainly the Australian quality of life and lifestyle, then look, you’re basically in the right place offering the right product at the right time.

00;11;40;23 – 00;12;03;09
Bernard Salt
The worst thing is to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, offering the wrong product no matter how clever you are, no matter how hard you work, if you’re in the wrong place at the wrong time, offering the wrong product, you ain’t got no hope. You need to make sure that you’ve got the basics right and then you just be carried forth.

00;12;03;21 – 00;12;30;06
Bernard Salt
Absolutely careen ahead, being carried forth on that wave of aspiration and positivism. So get the basics right at the at the CEO, the board level, the rest is operational. And in my view, you get the basics right by making sure you’re kind of aligned with the basic demographics of a of a market. Maybe that’s maybe I’m biased, but that’s the way I see the world.

00;12;30;10 – 00;12;53;18
No, that that makes complete sense. And it’s fascinating to sort of hear your insights around that, because before I moved into corporate innovation, I was speaking to small businesses and and I’ve sort of made the leap into larger corporates and the mindset between the two is quite different, even though they’re both focusing on business. And and it’s fascinating here your take on it that that it’s very similar challenges.

00;12;53;18 – 00;13;08;06
You know, you still trying to influence the right people, the right places to sort of reimagine the way business could be done. So so I find that fascinating. You’re an incredible storyteller. What is your tip for telling a great story?

00;13;09;21 – 00;13;47;28
Bernard Salt
Well, in in my space in corporate advisory, you need to have metrics. You you need to say you need to have numbers, some numbers in the story. And that and that gives that gives almost like a sort of reinforcement. Like it’s like steel reinforcement to concrete. If you’re just making an assertion, then business doesn’t want to know. If you say that 10% of people are spending this amount of money in that product area and that it’s that it’s double the proportion of ten years ago that is immediately of interest.

00;13;47;28 – 00;14;17;15
Bernard Salt
So you do need some, some credible numbers. You need to spend some time in proving the provenance of those numbers, not just, you know, 10% of people. According to the 2016 census completed by the Australian Bureau of Statistics once every five years. That census shows that this proportion of the population spend time talking about the provenance of the data, keep the data in your head and then tell a story about it.

00;14;17;15 – 00;14;32;28
Bernard Salt
And this is this is why I think people are doing that. It’s because of lifestyle. Then give an example, numbers, story, example, provenance of data, and then being able to retain the key figures in your head and then practice.

00;14;33;18 – 00;14;34;07
That and.

00;14;34;08 – 00;14;49;15
Bernard Salt
Look people in the eye, look people in the eye dominate the room. Raise your hand, put your hands out, be very, very self-confident about about your opinion and put it out there and then enjoy the interaction that flows from it.

00;14;49;26 – 00;15;15;27
That is incredible advice for for all those executives aspiring to be better influencers as well. So then thank you so much for coming on the show today. I really appreciate your your perspective. And for those of you interested in both and burn and please refer on to book speakers direct website ebook speakers direct dot com and get in touch with Bernard directly and make magic happen for your organization then.

00;15;15;28 – 00;15;19;26
And thanks once again for coming on the show. I really appreciate it and take care.

00;15;20;26 – 00;15;22;05
Bernard Salt
Thanks very much, AJ. Thank you.

00;15;22;22 – 00;15;45;13
If you enjoyed this episode, please give it an appropriate thumbs up on whatever platform you’re consuming it on and subscribe for future episodes. Thanks again to our sponsors. Books Speakers Direct the revolutionary way of finding the perfect speaker for your event.


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