Edge International

Charisma: The Quintessential Leadership Skill

John Plank

Charisma separates great leaders from good ones.

Defining charisma

What is it that enables leaders to establish an immediate rapport with their listeners and hold their attention while they persuade and inspire them?

This rare phenomenon is often called “charisma” and it seems like a magical and mysterious quality that only a few, chosen individuals have. When leaders are enthusiastically and energetically engaged in communicating with their listeners, they are often perceived as “charismatic.” It is their unselfconscious and passionate involvement that is so attractive to others.

The good news is that communicating charismatically is a learned skill.

Three myths about charisma

Myth #1: It’s about status.

Charisma is not about being rich and powerful. It’s not about being beautiful or talented. We can perceive charismatic qualities in every sort of person. The skills related to these qualities can be learned and developed with knowledge and practice.

Myth #2: Charismatic people are born that way. 

Actually we are all born charismatic. As children we engage in what interests us, unselfconsciously and enthusiastically, and we behave that way until social interaction persuades us to adopt “appropriate” ways of behavior. We become increasingly “self-conscious” and lose some of the ability to be “just ourselves.”  We are also born with personality traits that are innate. Some of us, often described as extraverts, thrive by interacting with the external world and learn by talking, while others, often described as introverts, enjoy their lives and learn through solitude and reflection.

Myth #3: Only extraverts can be charismatic.

Traditionally, the legal profession has been suited to introverts, and emphasized less interpersonally related job tasks. In recent years, however, lawyers’ job demands have changed to emphasize the importance of interpersonal communication and interaction with coworkers in team-based activities.

You may be one of the majority of lawyers who are introverts; if so, you are in good company with noted introverts including Warren Buffet, Bill Gates, Winston Churchill and Hilary Clinton. Lawyers have above-average levels of conscientiousness compared to other professions. Using thorough preparation and effective practice techniques, many introverts can surpass “naturally spontaneous” speakers.

Recent research has shown that introverts are capable of opening up and becoming more extraverted. Moreover, studies show that introverts who practice being more extraverted actually feel happier and more authentic. The best method for practicing is to seek safe and pleasurable activities – such as reading aloud, mentoring and teaching – to gradually build skills and self confidence in verbal communication.

Three keys to being a charismatic communicator

1. Energy

You may not be enthusiastic about all of the presentations, particularly presentations for non-experts. Remember: that is not the listeners’ problem; that is your challenge.

The charismatic speaker will always find material relevant to their listeners about which they can genuinely enthuse. It is work, both before and during talks, but it is enjoyable work, and it makes speaking much easier.

You need physical energy, too; speaking is a whole-body experience. You feel better, you sound better and you look better when you are using your physical energy. So “warm up” before you speak – go for a walk or work out – and practice your presentation out loud. (Deliver your talks or your planned responses into your cell phone – no one will pay any attention.)

2. Engagement

“One-way” speaking is unnatural; it will make you self-conscious, and make you and your listeners nervous. Communication with no eye contact is a major cause of fear of speaking. Without continuous eye contact, speakers cannot adjust the volume and speed of their delivery, nor adapt their content to the listeners’ responses.

Eye contact with your listeners establishes and maintains rapport, the most essential aspect of effective verbal communication. This visual contact creates an emotional and personal link between you and your listeners, which enhances your credibility and impact.

By delivering each point directly to an individual, you will pause instinctively between major points to confirm that your listener has grasped the concept, just as you do in informal conversation. Your ideas will be conveyed with understanding and maximum impact. In meetings and in presentations, continuous, respectful eye contact will enable you to “control the room.”

3. Empathy

We don’t care what you know until we know that you care.

Speaking is more of an emotional experience, for the speaker and the listener, than the intellectual relationship that’s formed between the writer and the reader.

This empathy becomes apparent to the audience quite naturally through your tone of voice, your body language and how sensitively you are responding to it.

Presentations should never be about the speaker; they must be about the listeners. Charismatic speakers focus exclusively on what their listeners want and need to know – and how they feel right now.

To summarize: without energy there can be no engagement and without engagement there can be no empathy. Use all three in your preparation and in your delivery – and you can achieve charismatic communication.

A final piece of advice: Speakers cannot improve their skills, nor achieve charismatic communication skills, without immediate and continuous application. Obviously, this means finding more speaking opportunities. Most great speakers learned their craft in safe situations, such as volunteer teaching, mentoring and providing breakout sessions at conferences, to build their confidence. Aspiring leaders must establish the development of speaking skills as a priority in their career development.

Just do it! Failure to develop the “charisma” component of your leadership may be the only thing holding you back.

Client Seminars: How to Engage your Guests

John Plank

There are three distinct groups of guests coming to your next seminar: Learners, Vacationers and Hostages.

How can you distinguish each group? More importantly, how can you engage them?


This is the group that you wanted to come to your seminar. In fact you may have planned your seminar specifically for them. Of the three groups, they are the most enthusiastic; eager to hear what you have to say and willing to participate.

Learners are the most challenging group. They have done their homework; they expect everything on the agenda to be covered. Stimulate their curiosity with questions, options and problems. Make sure you “stick to the script,” and start and finish on time

Best of all, learners are most likely to reciprocate enthusiastically after a successful seminar by recommending your seminar and your firm.


This group of guests come out of curiosity – perhaps to do some networking or, less likely, because they have nothing better to do, and a free breakfast or lunch seemed like a good idea. Like the learners, vacationers include a number of potential clients.

Be careful of the vacationers; they can become disruptive if not acknowledged. Make sure that your presentations are as interactive as possible and make sure that each part of your presentation is sprinkled liberally with compelling questions and interesting problems – rather than just facts and data which only the learners may be willing to explore. If you continuously strive to engage them, you may convert a few vacationers to “learner” status.


There are hostages at every presentation; people who were assigned – or “sent” – or came out of some sort of obligation. Hostages have better things to do than to attend your seminar. Because they do not feel that they need to be there, they may not feel any obligation to participate. Hostages may distract others by checking emails, chatting with fellow hostages – or worse, planning some sort of petty revenge by challenging the presenters.

How to handle hostages? You may be tempted to ignore them, but this is not advisable; distractions will increase.

Acknowledging hostages is something that every presenter should do, in one form or other. Through no fault of their own, these people are obliged to sit through your presentation while trying to resign themselves to the fact that they have lost several hours of a working day. In your opening remarks, I suggest that you acknowledge the fact that there are some people in the group that are there out of obligation of some sort. I like to mention how I personally hate being torn away from my personal agenda – and express my sympathy for their situation. It is remarkable how often this causes laughter and creates a much friendlier environment.

Assure the hostages that your presentation will be brief, acknowledge their expertise, and respectfully suggest that you may have some new information that may be of interest to them. Take every opportunity to address individual hostages personally – and include them if you are asking for opinions or experiences to be shared. Don’t overdo this however; the learners don’t appreciate time-wasting!

The ambiance in client seminars, held usually at your business “Home,” should be warm, welcoming and stimulating. Focussing on the comfort of your guests, informally and personally – as you would in your own home – is the key to a successful client seminar.

Empathy: Your Competitive Edge

John Plank

Empathy, the identification with, or vicarious experiencing of the feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of another, enables us to deeply experience another’s situations and emotions. Most importantly, empathy can enable us to discover creative solutions and to provide unique, personal service to our clients .

Developing your ability to empathize not only enables you to attract more business – it adds a powerful dimension to all of your personal communications.

In the most practical sense, our ability to empathize enables us to influence and persuade clients, colleagues and even adversaries by speaking at a deeper level of understanding that will have an immediate and personal impact on the listener.

“I don’t care what you know – until I know that you care”

It is empathy that informs all great presentations. Ideally, conversations, presentations and even negotiations should be customized and personalized for your listeners, exclusively addressing what they want to know and what they need to know. With this approach, you will be able to gain and hold the attention of individuals and larger groups within the first few minutes of any communication

The ultimate goal is to be able to “read” your listeners, from moment to moment throughout your conversations and presentations.

Building Trust

Trust is the foundation of all of our activities and services in the practice of law – and we earn the trust of everyone we know by demonstrating consistently our understanding of their circumstances, their goals and their feelings.

Here are three ways to develop your ability to empathize:

1. Pay More Attention

In childhood, you may have been admonished to “pay more attention.” The challenge to pay more attention is a constant throughout our lives – in both our professional and personal relationships. Throughout my career I have challenged myself and encouraged my clients to seek deeper and more nuanced understanding in all conversations and presentations by listening more sympathetically, faithfully acknowledging listeners, and asking more questions. Current technology enables us to record and easily access valuable, detailed notes about clients and colleagues. For many, these records become the chronicles and the testaments of their careers.

2. Indulge in Pleasurable Pastimes

There is compelling evidence that cultivating the habit of reading books, experiencing films, theatre and opera, and sharing stories with friends and colleagues enhances our ability to empathize. For busy professionals wanting a balanced and fulfilling life, these activities need to be given priority.

3. Share What You Know

Perhaps the most practical and rewarding way to improve your ability to empathize and to improve all of your communication skills is by finding opportunities to teach. Volunteering to teach professional development courses in your areas of interest and expertize, conducting “lunch and learns” at work and, especially, mentoring will all enhance your ability to empathize and define your legacy.

“Empathy is a special way of coming to know another and our self, a kind of attuning and understanding.”

Carl Rogers

How to Control the Room: 7 secrets to being successful in every meeting

John Plank

Careers can be made or broken in meetings. Here is how to become one of the best speakers in every meeting and distinguish yourself amongst your colleagues.

1. Say less – say it better.

A good presentation is like a Scotsman’s kilt; short enough to be interesting, long enough to cover the essentials.

Remember you are speaking, not writing. Your listeners can retain only a limited amount of information. If you say more than your listeners can retain, they will stop listening. So, keep it simple, keep it short – and make sure that you repeat important information at least once, preferably twice. If I can’t remember what you said, it has no power to influence me.

2. Start with “Your Point”

“Once more unto the breach, dear friends!” (Henry the Fifth)

The fastest way to lose an audience is to talk in general terms with the intention of gradually working towards “your point.” If your listeners do not hear something engaging as soon as you start to speak, they lose the ability to concentrate on what is being said. Start every part of your presentation with something simple, strong – and unequivocal.

3. Use inclusive language

Many people are irritated by speakers who seem to be “lecturing” them – or underestimating their knowledge. They may wait for the opportunity to challenge you. To avoid this, and make sure that everyone feels comfortable, use phrases throughout your presentation to make people feel included and comfortable. Terms such as “As you may know…”, “As most of you know…”, or “As you may be familiar with…”, you can let your listeners know that you appreciate their knowledge and their skill, and make sure that everyone understands what you’re saying — without upsetting the experts.

4. Use questions to engage your listeners

Some of your listeners may “tune out” when they are listening to long, detailed reports and information, but few can resist questions, options and problems. Psychologists tell us that whenever we are presented with a choice, or an option, or when we hear a question, it immediately engages our thinking process. Use this strategy to keep your listeners attentive. For example, instead of simply providing basic facts to accompany your proposal, you may say, “How will we achieve these results?” – and then deliver the information. Or, in outlining certain risks, you might say, “So what are the potential risks?”

Just think of an obvious question that your information answers – and start with that question.

5. Use stories and examples

Most people hate presentations; but almost everyone loves stories. Your information is important and it will never be boring, provided that you can give interesting examples and stories that relate to it.

Tell us the “story” of the benefits of new proposals. Tell us a “story” about how things will be when your proposal is executed successfully. And most of all, tell us the stories of the bad things that could happen if problems are not corrected. Make sure your listeners are included in your stories or can identify with the “characters.”

Stories are an excellent way to get your audience interested, involved – and motivated.

6. Use eye contact to compel your listeners.

Speakers who simply recite their information will always lack authority. Remember that this is a presentation – the more you can make it like a real conversation, the more sincere you sound. We can all read up to 300 words per minute; if someone is reciting information at 150 words per minute, without paying any attention to us, it sounds artificial, feels boring — and is often annoying.

Start by looking at everyone in the meeting; look at each person, make a connection; don’t “scan.”

Don’t simply pause for effect; pause while you look carefully for everyone’s response. Their responses will inform every part of your speaking; you can tell more accurately what pace and volume is required, whether you need to clarify with an example, or to check whether you are being understood.

Your comfort with silence and continuous eye contact is the most powerful way to convey confidence and hold everyone’s attention.

7. Prepare in advance for the tough questions

Don’t lose sleep, or panic about dealing with tough questions. You are the expert. Chances are, you know more about what you are saying than anyone in the room. As the expert, you can think of even tougher questions than your listeners can!

Make a list of the 10 toughest questions you could be asked and prepare simple and powerful responses to each one. For each question, make sure you have a short, strong opening response. Think of it as a strong “headline” which perfectly sums up your point. Then simply prepare three (no more) brief pieces of evidence to support your point. You will conclude by repeating your headlines and referring briefly to each of your three points. By doing this in advance, you will probably anticipate at least 80% of the questions that you might be asked.

This preparation will make a huge difference in your feeling of self-confidence going into your meeting – and you will have that extra confidence throughout your presentation.

Lastly, make a few simple notes to rate your effectiveness after each meeting – and build on your success!

The Art of Engagement

John Plank

A few months ago, the managing partner of a prestigious law firm asked me this question: “How can I keep my listeners engaged while I’m presenting?” In fact, she’s already a superb presenter — but like all good speakers, she constantly strives to be better. I’d like to share with you the advice I gave to her.

The level of interest in your topic and the quality of your information will always vary from one presentation to the other. But the challenge inherent in every presentation remains the same: “How can I be sure that I will engage my listeners?”

There are many approaches and techniques available to you, but there are only a few that I would call “The Essentials.”

Ten Compelling Reasons to Improve Your Speaking Skills

John Plank

Is speaking simply an obligation for you?

What if speaking could transform your career – and your life?

Your academic and professional success is built on a foundation of excellent analytical and writing skills. Without those skills you could not have achieved your present position. How well you speak will increasingly become the determining factor in your success.

You may already be a good speaker. If speaking has not been a requirement in your work – you may feel that you’re not a good speaker. In either case, I’d like to encourage you to look at speaking from a fresh perspective.

Here are 10 compelling reasons to improve your speaking ability right away!


Leaders speak. It’s that simple. But there is a priceless secret. Leadership does not teach us speaking skills; speaking teaches us the essential leadership skills! When you speak you add an emotional component to your ideas; your listeners understand you at a deeper level.

By speaking, leaders share their values, ideas and their enthusiasm. It is only when you speak that we truly know what you care about and we are moved to action.