Bend it like Brené

ted-logoI had a big bump moment with charisma last week that I want to share with you.  I have always been a HUGE fan of Brené Brown, ever since I saw her TED talk in 2010, the very talk that went viral and made her an overnight sensation.

So it was very exciting to get the opportunity to see her live in Melbourne last Friday.  It was exciting but I was also a tad nervous, what if she didn’t live up to my expectation.  I need not have spent a nanosecond worrying about that. Brené was a warm, empathic and funny and had the audience eating out of the palm of her hand from the word go.  But what surprised me was how charismatic she was.  I was reminded of a quote by Rose Herceg ‘Charisma is like pornography, you can’t define it, but you know it when you see it’!

We are all brought up to believe charisma, you have got it or you don’t, but having the privilege of watching Brené in action, here are some things that stood out.

Charisma is being comfortable with who you are.  Every charismatic person owns who they are, warts and all and are completely comfortable in their skin.  They are not mimicking someone else or trying to be something they are not.

Authenticity. What struck me with Brené Brown’s talk was how genuine she was, it does help that she researches authenticity, but it is very powerful to see a speaker modeling their message.  In a world where so much seems manufactured, spun, sanitized, authenticity is immediately charismatic.

Elevate others.  Quite often people who think they are charismatic, or  are determined to be charismatic can make it all about themselves.  It is all about their ego, always speaking the most, and not giving other people an opportunity.  Seeing charisma in action is the exact opposite of that.  A charismatic presenter or leader elevates the people around them, through their connection, and warmth.  All of us felt shiny and new and loved  ( I know!) after we heard Brené.

Humour and humility. Share stories, every charismatic person is a great storyteller, but their stories are not the ‘how great I am’ stories but story that show them in their human frailty and use humour and humility.

Charm not smarm. Charisma and charm are like basil and tomatoes.  But the key is the charm has to be genuine, a genuine smile, spotting the positive thing to say and a warm handshake.

Off Stage. Charisma is not something you turn off and on.  We were in a crowd of people trying to speak with Brené after she stepped off stage and she was being moved along by her conference organisers.  Yet I noticed she made time to shake every hand that was proffered, hugged people and stopped to chat even if it was just for a couple of seconds.  Her off stage and on stage persona were completely congruent.

I know all of us do and are some of these things some of the time.  Our challenge is to ‘Bend it like Brené’, and make it part of who we are.  So the next time you have an opportunity to go in ego and guns blazing or elevate someone else chose the latter and watch your charisma grow.

How to have your audience at hello

Jack, one of our clients was preparing to present at a Road Show.  We asked Jack what his audience would be thinking and he answered honestly with this.  “Well when I was on the other side of the fence and had to attend Road Shows, I would often think ‘Not another bloody road show’, so I have no doubt that this is exactly what most people will be thinking”.

Jack used this knowledge and started his presentation with “So I know you are all probably thinking, not another bloody Road Show”.  Everyone immediately laughed, they had been outed, but the audience also felt understood as Jack acknowledged what they were thinking. Jack was immediately on the audience’s side and they thought this speaker isn’t too bad, let’s listen to what follows.

Once we attended a 7:30 breakfast presentation where the CEO of Carmen’s Muesli, Carolyn Creswell was presenting.  She started by saying, “When the alarm went off this morning I thought this breakfast seminar better be good.  And then I thought Shit I better be good!”.  The audience laughed and connected with her straight away.

Depending on what you are able to find out about your audience always try and tap into what your audience is thinking and use that as part of your presentation.

In fact we often recommend you begin with that, like Jack and Carolyn Creswell.  If your first line is about the audience then like the line from the film Jerry Maguire “You have them at hello“.

So, what is the first line you say when you present? The first few moments of your presentation are really important, this is when you can get your audience to connect with you, or not.

Connecting with your audience as fast as you can is vital.  You need to figure out how you can ‘have them at hello’.  You only other choice as a presenter is to lose them at hello.


What every presenter can learn from their teenager? And it’s not what you think!

Believe me it’s not necessarily words like epic, awesome or a grunt in response to a question…even though that might be exactly how you are feeling! But something I was unaware of until yesterday.

Just yesterday I was in my daughter’s school listening to yet another parenting expert.  The expert said that with teenagers there is the public discourse and a parallel private discourse that might run completely contrary.  For example when your teenager shouts and says ‘All my friends are going‘, ‘None of their parents are ringing to check‘, etc their private discourse is very much ‘Keep me safe, set me firm boundaries‘.  But it’s very hard for parents to remember the private discourse, when battling their teenager’s public war of words.  The private discourse is the hidden unspoken, yet important stuff.

I immediately thought how relevant & applicable this is for presenters. To be aware of both the public discourse and the private discourse that is happening for their  audience.  Sadly as we are all polite adults and not hormonal teenagers, our public discourse is the one that can be less than honest but polite and our private one not so much.  For example I was talking to the CEO of a large professional services company that had run a massive event for their clients last year.  At the end of the event which was ‘PowerPoint central’ they asked several members of the audience what they thought and received lots of polite positives. The CEO however confided in us saying ‘ We could detect a lack of sincerity in their voices!”.  Interestingly the anonymous online survey afterwards (the private discourse) showed that people were less than impressed with the event.  The CEO and his team did listen to the feedback and completely altered the event for this year and it turned out to be much more successful.

What if you are presenting and you can sense or are aware of the private discourse?  You can as the presenter choose to step into a moment of authenticity and create a deep connection with your audience.  One of our client’s Jack was presenting at a roadshow and he said that for employees while attendance was compulsory, they would all be thinking ‘Oh no not another road show’, though wouldn’t voice this publicly.  So Jack as a senior leader decided to step into the private discourse and opened his presentation by saying ‘I know a lot of you might be thinking the same ‘Not another bloody roadshow’!  This was both refreshing and unexpected. His audience immediately burst out laughing.  They had been ‘outed’ but here was a presenter who understood what they were thinking / feeling, so they were happy to listen to him.  As Covey said ‘Seek to understand, before being understood’.  Sometimes articulating the private discourse helps you show empathy for the audience and to show that you understand them.  What a wonderful place to begin a presentation from.

What if you can sense an undercurrent of a contrary private discourse but can’t quite put your figure on it?  This is a fork in the road for you as a presenter.  You can, bravely plug away at your messages, while pretending nothing is wrong.  While this might sound like a safe strategy, it’s actually most risky as unless you acknowledge what is happening in the room, you risk losing both your audience ‘s attention and  your credibility as a presenter.  Or you can speak to the truth of the moment by asking the audience what is happening.

Recently we were conducting a storytelling workshop with senior leaders where each leaders was sharing a story in turn.  After each story we ask for very simple feedback from the other leaders and also provide some feedback from us.  Unfortunatley there was hardly any feedback coming from the other leaders.  It was like drawing teeth.  We thought people were warming up to the idea, and just then one of the senior leaders stepped in and said ‘Why are we not providing feedback?  I thought were building a culture of openness and honesty so there is a real opportunity hear to demonstrate that.  What is stopping us?”.  She had stepped into the private discourse by asking a question that said something is happening here that’s not right, what is it and can we fix it?  There was a stunned silence but everyone was immediately jerked out of their reprieve.  One of the other leaders responded ‘We all are so busy worrying about our turn , we can’t really concentrate on the other’s stories‘.  Everyone felt sheepish but now that truth had surfaced and acknowledged it caused a shift in the room and in the behaviour.  People were much more forthcoming with their feedback, realising that this was the fair and right thing to do, not matter what the other stressors are.

Stepping into the private discourse, can be both hard to do and challenging for us as presenters and possibly parents.  What is the private discourse and do we have the courage to address it?  And as Mark Twain famously said ‘Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear, NOT absence of fear’.  Now just don’t share that with your teenager!