Beyond technical competence: how can we insight professionals become more ‘charismatic’?

A great article in the Harvard Business Review (full link at end of post) defines charisma as ‘the ability to communicate a clear, visionary, and inspirational message that captivates and motivates an audience.’

It got me thinking – isn’t that exactly what insight professionals strive to do? And when we fail to fully hit home with our message, is it perhaps in part because we lack that special ingredient of charisma?    

While many believe charisma is innate and cannot be learnt, the article argues that there are twelve things we can do to come across as more charismatic. Learning and practising these skills has been proven to increase impact.

As an insight professional there were a few ideas that especially resonated with me:

1.     Use stories and anecdotes to help listeners understand and relate

One of the most impactful presentations I have seen, began with a story of two brands, describing them as ‘characters’ each with their own background and individual experiences. No data was shown at this point and the (perhaps ballsy!) presenter read the story out from the slides for the first few minutes of the session as if he was literally narrating a tale. It was risky for a researcher to do this; it was also utterly captivating.

When stories and anecdotes are personal they also serve the purpose of engendering a connection between the presenter and his audience. Just yesterday we were at a workshop where a presenter used his five year old daughter’s favourite story – The Little Mermaid - to describe his role at the company. He talked about going out into the great ocean, discovering and adapting to new situations – which all sounded a little more memorable than ‘I work in Sales’! Not only did the audience more readily relate to and remember what he did, but the presenter came across as more human for having brought his daughter into the meeting room (virtually).

2.     Use 3-part lists to distill and engage

I love this one for its simplicity, and it really works. You can use it to structure an entire presentation around the big take-outs, avoid verbally digressing by focusing on three key points per slide, or apply it in your emails.

The rationale: people can easily remember three things, there are enough elements to suggest a reliable pattern, and it creates an impression of completeness.

A great tool I’ve found to help distill myriad inputs into just three ideas is the Pyramid Principle (see reference below). You start with a ‘governing thought’ for your communication – or 1-sentence elevator pitch that it all boils down to - and then structure the rest of your presentation into logical blocks of insight that support that thought. This naturally results in the removal of interesting-but-not-critical findings and gives your audience a more compelling and single-minded story.

3.     Enhance your non-verbal cues

We frequently pore over content and don’t think about the manner in which we’re going to deliver it. Voice, facial expressions, gestures and movement are processed subconsciously by your audience and have an enormous impact on how you're received. But it’s fair to say that leveraging these elements doesn’t come naturally to everyone.

In one of my former roles, an enlightened leader organised training by theatre actors and voice coaches to help employees enhance their presentation skills. I picked up many things but in particular one fantastic short-cut to having more impact:

Conjure up in your mind someone you like very much and with whom you feel completely comfortable as equals. Imagine now, that you are presenting to this person instead of to that daunting room full of C-suite execs.

In my case I visualise my best friend of almost 30 years. It’s astonishing how simply imagining I'm having a relaxed conversation with her about my findings has a number of immediate effects without me even thinking about it: my eye contact increases, my voice is more animated, and I naturally use more hand gestures and facial expressions. And this usually results in a much more engaging and memorable conversation.



Learning Charisma by John Antonakis, Marika Fenley, Sue Liechti – in the June 2012 edition of HBR:

The Pyramid Principle: Logic in Writing and Thinking by Barbara Minto:

Barbara Langer