being more charismatic when you present

We all know it when we see it! We can’t put our finger on it and define ‘charisma’ but we know people who are charismatic (and those who aren’t). Charisma during your presentation will take you a long, long way.

So how do you give charisma-vibes when you’re delivering a presentation?

Well a while back I looked at the difference between authority and being relatable (I was talking about imperfections in your presentations). At the time I used the idea of a scale of being authoritative vs being relatable.

the presenter's authority arrow
Presenter’s Authority vs Likability score

Right now though, I’d like to explore that in a bit more detail and suggest that a more complex model of how to be charismatic (and impressive) as you present is to be both relatable and authoritative. (The term used in the research is ‘warmth’ rather than ‘relatable’.)

When you think of these two things as independent you get a a bit more of an idea about how to make your audience love you.

In real life both competence and warmth are continuous, but for convenience, let’s pretend they both split into “high” and “low”. That gives us four segments on a graph – let’s take them one a a time.

Incompetent and cold presenters

Your audience is pretty likely to view you unfavourably. The word used in the research is “contempt”. Okay, so that’s a bit of a harsh term, ‘cos I’ve no doubt you’re trying your best, but it really does hammer home how important it is to be a decent presenter who knows their content.

What are the chances of your presentation being taken seriously if your audience holds you – the presenter – in contempt?

Incompetent and warm presenters

The magic word here is pity. This is the box where you’ll be put if they like you but can’t find anything particularly worthy of respect in your presentation. A word of caution here, gentle reader, because this is a box that feels nice in the room. You’ll even find people telling you that your presentation was good, simply because they like you. Don’t be seduced!

Confession: I might be biased here because I can think of a number of popular competitors of mine with fantastic skills in being cuddly (and a little camp) on stage, making people like them. But everyone in the audience having warm fuzzy feelings isn’t what presentations are about in the real world… or at least it’s not what presentations are only about.

teddy bear on stage, presenting

Be honest with yourself – how many times have you warmed to a presenter only to find that nothing of significant value passed hands during the presentation? More than you think? Why? Because their Warmth score is like a bloody anaesthetic that hides a lack of competence! 😉

Competent and cold presenters

Envy – that’s the word used in the research. Again, it’s a hard term but what it encapsulates is a sense of social distancing. If people don’t like you they’re less likely to follow through on your presentation – no matter how awesome the content!

On a personal note… I risk sliding into this box.

Competent and warm presenters

Bingo. This is it. The jargon word is “Admire” but basically it’s the Holy Grail of engagement with your audience. This is the quadrant of the graph in habited by the very best of presenters. (As an aside you don’t actually have to be a nice, warm, cuddly person – God knows I’m not! – but you have to be liked by your audience. Faking being warm isn’t a good plan, but it might do in an emergency! 🙂 )

So how do you boost your “warmth” as a presenter?

A couple of “don’t do” things first. Don’t make jokes (because jokes have victims) and don’t put yourself down with false modesty. (“I’m not really an expert on this” or “I’ve been asked to talk about …”) This might increase your warmth but it does so at the expense of your competence.

Warmth is largely down to body language, smiles and your eyes. It’s not rocket science! I find that a really powerful tool is talking to my audiences before the presentation starts. If you happen to be near the coffee machine when they come up, pass them a cup over…

Picking up on the work of Prof Robert Cialdini, think about the idea of “Liking”. And one of the best ways to boost “liking” is for your audience to think you are like them. I’ve seen people use accent here and the way they dress… I’ve seen people use a common enemy or a shared interest in sport – even a shared life experience such as having children.

Using jargon can be effective here. (Be careful not to alienate those people who don’t “get” the jargon of course!)

Oh, and just bloody smile!

And how do you boost your (perceived) competence as a presenter?

Firstly, know your stuff. Secondly know how to present your stuff. Easy! 🙂

You can use body language here, too – standing still and not hiding behind a lectern, for example. By rolling up your sleeves as though you mean business… by having a resonant voice with clear articulation… the list goes on and on and on. A beard helps too, apparently (for men!).

But the thing I want to talk about – because it’s forgotten too often – is pure and simple technical competence. I’ve written a little about it before but stay with me for a moment. As humans we have a subconscious tendency to conflate competence in one area with competence in another. Ask yourself how much faith you have in presenters who start their presentation by not being able to turn on their own projector.

Let me give you a personal example…

I have two daughters, both of whom have clocked up more stage time than is ‘normal’ and one of whom in particular has more stage time than I do, because of her work as an advocate for international charities. On one particular gig, she was setting up and being chatted up by The Middle Aged Men Who Know Best. Without stopping chatting to them Daughter#2 assembled all her equipment without even having to look at it particularly – just putting things together in the same way you see Jason Bourne assembling a sniper rifle.

Keep in mind she’s a young, pretty girl about to talk to a mildly hostile, patronising group of white, middle class men… you know the kind… successful and smug… and she’s going to tell them that their way of doing things is making the world worse.

Here’s the magic phrase of feedback “As soon as I saw how well she knew how to do what she did, I resolved to listen properly. She’d obviously done her practice, so I figured I could trust her research.

I’m not going to pretend that D#2 doesn’t have an advantage over most of us ‘cos of her looks – because she does – which puts her right up the Warmth axis with barely any effort on her part. On the other hand, that tends to count against her in large parts of society when it comes to being along the Competence axis. She overcomes that by giving a fantastically assured first, technical impression.

Where do I start, as a presenter?

It’s all very well and good making suggestions about what to do, but the reason I’ve skipped over them so briefly is that they’re not the problem. The real problem is knowing which you need to work on… and that is both as easy and as difficult as knowing if you really do look good in that new outfit.

Start by asking yourself where you are on the competence graph above. Be brutal, be honest. And remember that it’s going to be different under different circumstances with different audiences. Then ask what you can do to improve your score on each axis.

The next step is a bit less reassuring I’m afraid. Do a quick reality check for each of your ideas. Take each idea in turn and ask yourself two questions that will inform what you actually do:

  • how willing/happy/prepared am I to do that – and if I’m not, why not? For example, I could make myself much warmer to audiences by talking to them beforehand but it’s not something I’m particularly prepared to do as it interferes too much with my personal preparation
  • does doing that thing compromise you too much on the other axis to be worth the effort? For example, I could make myself even more highly scoring on the Competence axis by restricting questions but that would reduce my Warmth score more than I think is appropriate.

The next step, obviously, is to actually do it 😉

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2 Replies to “being more charismatic when you present”

  1. I never read blogs. I’ve just read your Simon.
    I always hate inane vacuous phrases.
    Know like trust falls into that category for me.
    So after years of my style being too annoying for many, I gave up.
    But I do think being useful serves one’s audience best.
    It’s the only style that gives the audience a chance of longer term benefit.

  2. Hi Q J – flattered that you read it!

    I know the person who (claims to have) invented the phrase “know like and trust”. I never liked it – always felt a bit too trite to me, and just coined to catchphrase… they might be right in a lot of circumstances, obviously, but not automatically and not for real world presentations. 🙂

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