Skillsoft Blog

Interview with Vanessa Van Edwards: Charisma and Emotional Intelligence

Vanessa Van Edwards is a human behavior hacker, the Lead Investigator at Science of People, and a self-professed “recovering awkward person.” This last quality led her to create a research lab dedicated to the study of people skills. Vanessa also kicked off Skillsoft Live Events 2020, sharing hilarious stories and key insights on how anyone can take charge of any social situation and significantly increase their influence and impact on others.

Vanessa articulated how increasing your influence and impact on others starts with your charisma. While we can all recognize a charismatic person, very few of us know how to be charismatic. Charismatic people place high importance on the words they choose, their hands gestures and tone of voice.

  1. Words

Words are crucial to our ability to influence others. For example, say you need a coworker’s assistance for a large scope project, and the project’s success hinges on that person’s contribution. If you say something like, “I need your help, this is a big project, and I can’t do it on my own,” you’ll sound demanding and may come across as inept. Try using positive, “priming” words that communicate a mutual benefit of working together. “I’ve been tasked with a high-visibility project and feel it would benefit from our collaboration—I’d love to discuss. Could we connect?”

  1. Hands

Appropriate use of hand motions can significantly decrease or increase your trustworthiness. For example, crossing your arms can make you come across as unapproachable, while hands in pockets communicates insecurity. Keep your hands above your waist and use them to outline specific points or foster a personal connection—holding up a number of fingers for important points or a hand over your heart. Always avoid pointing your finger at people and never use the infamous “dagger-hands.”

  1. Tone

The tone of your voice is critical to how receptive others are to what you’re communicating. Speaking in a monotone voice reduces engagement and overusing upward inflection is annoying. Relax your shoulders and vocal cords by exhaling when you speak. This provides you with your most natural vocal inflection which increases listener engagement.

These three elements are just the tip of the iceberg as it pertains to our ability to be charismatic. Charisma is one of the bedrocks of our emotional intelligence and Skillsoft offers several courses on the topic of emotional intelligence—to learn more, click here.

Following Vanessa’s talk, we sat down with her to discover more about what motivates her work.

Vanessa, what inspired you to become a human behavior hacker? Was there a particular event or insight that led you towards studying human behavior?

I am a recovering awkward person, so I have always been fascinated by the inner workings of people. Optimizing who we are and how we interact is a personal mission—and also helps lots of fellow recovering awkward folks.

During your research for Captivate: The Science of Succeeding with People, what insights and discoveries most surprised you?

I was most surprised at how often people feel awkward! We feel awkward all the time—awkward silences, walking into events, thinking about where to put our hands. It made the book super easy to write because I realized there were so many social situations we could target!

It’s almost comforting in a way knowing that there are more people who feel awkward regularly! On that note, what are the top tips you would give someone to make a positive first impression when giving a business presentation?

Research shows that speakers who have two qualities do best—enthusiasm and comfort. In other words, know your stuff and love talking about it.

Thank you, Vanessa—we have learned so much from you. Anyone who wants to learn more about Vanessa’s work should check out

Looking forward, we have another exciting Skillsoft Live Event coming up soon.

Have you ever wondered how persuasive you are or sought to become more persuasive? Whether you think you are persuasive or not, the art of constructive persuasion plays a huge role in your ability to collaborate, network and leave a good impression.

On March 11, 2020, at 12 p.m. EDT, Skillsoft Live Events will host Jay Conger talking about “The Necessary Art of Persuasion.” Jay holds the Henry R. Kravis Chaired Professor of Leadership Studies at Claremont McKenna College and has worked with over 500 organizations on how to become a master of constructive persuasion. After hearing Jay’s keynote, you’ll be more persuasive than ever.

Click here to reserve your spot.

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