How to develop charisma in a virtual world

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How to develop charisma in a virtual world

Written by: Karlin Sloan

The rapid change to working from home in 2020 led to many senior executives contemplating how they would influence colleagues through a screen.

Having charisma in business helps to inspire trust and confidence, arguably never more important than now. But what works in an open-plan office or conference room will not necessarily work in virtual meetings. So, how can you hone your executive presence in a virtual world?

It is particularly difficult to read body language and other nonverbal cues through a screen. That said, it’s important to match your voice, pace, tone and posture so that you are communicating clearly and effectively.

Here are some tips to ensure you come across as positive and confident:

  • Relax and open your upper body posture, try not to fold your arms
  • Use your eyes. Connect through the lens, which means looking into the camera rather than at yourself on screen. This feels odd to start with but gets easier with practice
  • Use your facial expressions and hand gestures to support what you are trying to convey
  • Avoid fidgeting. When people touch their face or fidget when answering questions, they can be perceived as being dishonest or covering something up
  • Nothing beats a smile. Smiling authentically is infectious, and people want to feel positivity. Smiling is the easiest way to help others to feel accepted and relaxed
  • A webcam saps charisma, so you need to be bigger and more expressive in your performance. If you are chairing a meeting or presenting an idea, change your setup so you can stand up — this immediately improves your energy levels and conveys more dynamism.
  • Make sure you are well-lit and fill the screen with your head and shoulders. Invest in a good quality microphone and camera
  • Feelings matter. Work out what you want your colleagues to feel after the presentation or meeting. This will help you to align your style with your message
  • Try and add humor. Your team will engage with what you’re saying more positively, remember it and be more likely to take action

Now that we no longer meet by the coffee machine or in the corridor, online meetings are even more important, and it is crucial to stay focused on your colleague or client. To boost your mental presence, you should:

  • Give your full attention to whoever you are speaking to. If you’re on Skype or Zoom, put all other things aside, turn off your email, social networking sites and phone. Silent mode isn’t good enough: Very few people can resist looking at the phone when a text notification appears
  • Focus before and during the conversation. Show up and start being present five minutes before the online meeting. Physically and mentally, put all other work aside. Listen carefully to other colleagues, and ask questions from different angles.

We’ve all been on a Zoom call that’s gone awry, with someone’s dog chewing on a shoe in the background or, worse, an unenthusiastic participant pointing the camera toward their chin as they walk around the house.

The truth is, authenticity during these times can connect you to others if you acknowledge where you are, stay present and remain focused on who you’re speaking with. 

Recently, I was working with an executive, who we’ll call "David." He is typically a powerhouse of a leader, who commands the room when he walks in. Online, however, he’s fidgety and distracted, and he doesn’t have the same savvy about social cues, so he can’t do what he normally does — focus on each individual and engage them personally.

Having to develop a new toolkit when you’ve been so successful before can be a stretch, but David took the opportunity to learn new things. He started incorporating bits of video animation in his monthly meetings to illustrate his key points. He started using humor and his natural charisma to command the virtual room in a new way.

Each meeting, he created a ritual in which the participants showed their location honestly, then put a background up to reflect their mood. Those small changes have resulted in productive and connected sessions that make a positive impact on the team. 

Now is the time to demonstrate that you are learning, unlearning and relearning. Life changed dramatically in 2020, and we need to actively seek out knowledge that keeps us fresh. Don’t be afraid to let colleagues know that you are challenging the status quo so that you can update your organization’s reasoning and trigger creativity and innovation. Nothing engages people like our own sense of curiosity, as it encourages other to develop a growth mindset.

Nobody is 100% confident that they know everything and can handle every situation that arises. But if you can show that no matter what happens, there are solutions to implement or lessons to be learned, and that when bad things happen that ultimately we will prevail, you will inspire trust.

That sense of commitment to a positive outcome makes others feel confident in you. After a year where the world has experienced a global health pandemic and society is politically polarized, this is crucial.

Demonstrate to your colleagues that you try to take every situation as a chance to learn, grow, change or develop. This gives you the capacity to weather many storms in life and work. That attitude of resilience provides a strong foundation for influencing others to be more effective and fulfilled. It also gives us the inner strength to engage others to solve problems, face challenges or changes with their own best efforts.

Having charisma is not about the way you look, particularly in a virtual world. It’s about the way you make others feel. Focus on making people feel confident, cared about and inspire them to want to make a positive impact, and you will gain their trust and willingness to follow — vital traits in these times of uncertainty and change.


Karlin Sloan is CEO of Sloan Group International, a provider of leadership development programs to Fortune 500 companies and entrepreneurial organizations. The firm’s Inspiring Leadership app supports leaders to be more effective, resilient and fulfilled

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January 22, 2021 at 12:39PM

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Dr. Sharon Lamm-Hartman