Joep Cornelissen, RSM

Joep Cornelissen, RSM

Powerful communication through body language

Professor Joep Cornelissen gave the audience a quick guide to using ‘the body language of leaders’ to become more persuasive.

He contrasted the late Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple, with McDonald’s recently appointed CEO Steve Easterbrook. “Jobs was a powerful performer who managed to sell you products you didn't know you wanted, Easterbrook has to sell you stuff you no longer want,” said Cornelissen wryly.

How not to do it

Cornelissen described a recent 23-minute corporate video presentation by Easterbrook to present his plan for McDonalds. In it, the CEO uses a lot of strategy language such as ‘unleashing entrepreneurship’ and ‘delayering’. “It went on and on,” Cornelissen commented, and told the audience that subsequent criticism on social media was severe – and McDonald’s share price dropped afterwards.

Easterbrook is knowledgeable about the business, said Cornelissen, but his delivery and his language were not effective.

Do’s and don’ts

Cornelissen briefed the Summit audience on effective presentation techniques.

  • Don't use technical information, ‘management speak’, empty phrases or clichés
  • Do use framing, analogies, metaphors, story-telling, anecdotes and image-based words in common-sense language
  • Don’t stay unmoved or passive or use a neutral tone of voice
  • Do use an animated tone of voice, facial expressions and gestures

The need to be convincing

Cornelissen said leaders had to be convincing for customers, investors and employees, but the need to be convincing builds up through the stages of the entrepreneurial venture. Entrepreneurs in the exploration phase of a new venture talk to friends and business associates, collecting informal feedback to find out if there is a viable business – this stage of the process is without pressure because there is nothing to lose. But in later stages, as commitment builds, so does pressure as the entrepreneur listens to feedback, and wonders if the business is going to fly.

The dragon’s den

It takes one more step to launch the business, to put it in front of investors, explained the professor. Now the pressure to be legitimate is on. Pressure is greatest at the point when the entrepreneur pitches to ‘the dragon’s den’ using all their communication skills to convince potential investor. This use of communications skills during the pitching stage of the entrepreneurial cycle has been the subject of several research projects.

Be prepared

“Ultimately, preparedness is what helps the investor to decide, but the combination is important,” said Cornelissen, and described how investors typically look for two key elements: a well-prepared pitch containing a tried-and-tested idea, a good team in place and accompanied by sound financial projections; and an impassioned entrepreneur with convincing body language, facial expressions and tone and pitch of delivery. Studies found that both key elements really matter.

More body movement is better

More body movement is better and makes you more passionate and convincing, said Cornelissen. Movements such as hand beats emphasise the rhythm of a speech; cohesive gestures aid the structure of the speech; directions such as pointing to the screen or even pointing in the air help to frame an abstract idea that the speaker wants the audience to think about; and symbolic gestures can represent ideas or a journey, or differences between ‘this’ and ‘that’ to help put the idea across.

These can be particularly effective if you synchronise them with your speech, advised Cornelissen and told the audience that even though charisma is often thought of as a gift or an innate personal attribute, it can also be learned and applied.

“These skills really matter,” said Cornelissen, and urged the audience to think about their own communication skills; to ask themselves if they are sufficiently reflective or use enough framing devices and gestures when speaking. There is overwhelming evidence that these gestures add to the effectiveness of communications.

RSM Leadership Summit 2015 - presentation by professor Joep Cornelissen
RSM Leadership Summit 2015 - presentation by professor Joep Cornelissen Powerful communication through body language
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